Throughout this summer, The Daily Mississippian is publishing dispatches from our staffers about their vacation and study abroad experiences.
I was blessed to take a cross-country trip to Los Angeles a week after classes ended for the spring semester at Ole Miss, although my travel group didn’t finish planning until the week of the trip.
The trip, sponsored by the Stamps Scholars Program at the university, was a bonding experience for the Class of 2025 cohort.
I purchased a plane ticket days before departure at a price double what it was a month prior. Early bird gets the worm, I guess. The flights themselves weren’t the best either. I stand 6-foot-2, with relatively broad shoulders, and I ended up crammed between two other grown men for a collective eight hours. My knees aged at least 15 years, I fear. Abolish the middle seat.
Suboptimal planning aside, the trip was fun. I could tell my fellow travelers were a little drained from final exams, essays and speeches, but eager to see what Los Angeles had to offer. Well, what doesn’t L.A. have to offer? It’s not the Deep South. I can tell you that with certainty.
We took a 40-minute shuttle from LAX to the place we were staying. If I drove on the interstate for 40 minutes in Mississippi, I’d be at least two cities away from where I started. Expansive is an understatement, and the clogged traffic added to my warped perception of distance. The time spent in traffic depended on our Uber driver. With six lanes to merge between, a capable driver can maneuver just fine.
We tried to make the most of our six days. Early mornings and long afternoons were spent exploring the city. We did a good job staying away from tourist spots, a byproduct of rushed planning. A good chunk of time was also spent in culturally diverse areas.
Chinatown was the first stop. The only other ethnic enclave I had visited was Chinatown in New York. Naturally, I compared the two. Just as New York and L.A. are opposites of each other, so are their respective Chinese neighborhoods. Chinatown L.A. was spread over more blocks. The stores and shops themselves were clumped together, reminiscent of a downtown market. There were many more chain franchises in the area than expected. When we arrived, the streets were empty. That could be due to the late time of day. Chinatown N.Y. is distinctly lively, in tune with the bustling nature of the city. Still, you could tell it was a small business, family-oriented community.
Koreatown was delightful and truly enriched with foreign culture. I had Korean barbecue for the second time, and I can confidently say my skills with chopsticks have diminished. Use it or lose it. One of my classmates is Korean, and she helped us navigate the experience. Shout out to you, Anna! As we sat waiting for the proteins to be brought out, Anna educated us on every side dish on the table. No joke, the table was filled with food. I left KBBQ fulfilled and well-informed. Oxford needs Korean barbecue; it would do well in a college town. After that meal, I tried rolled ice cream for the first time. I know, I’m late to the party. I’m not sure it lives up to the hype, but it was good.
Beverly Hills felt like a calm suburb. Distinct from downtown, residential land flirted with the commercial properties. Rodeo Drive has every designer store you can imagine. We mostly window shopped. We aren’t quite there yet. Give us about 10 years. On Rodeo Drive, there’s an alley with at least five plastic surgery clinics, one of the many reminders that I was far from home.
I looked forward to visiting Santa Monica the most. The last time I went to California, I was only six years old. I vaguely remember the pier and its iconic Ferris wheel lighting up the sky. Our Uber driver gave us some pointers about the pier and L.A. as a whole. It was particularly windy that day. The pigeons on the beach were suspended in the air trying to fly against the wind. One of them was kind enough to poop on me.
The view was beautiful. Sparkling ocean water and a defined coastline made for pretty videos and pictures. We walked the entire pier and roamed around the surrounding area. Good vibrations in Santa Monica.
One of the few requirements of the trip to Los Angeles, sponsored by the Stamps Foundation and the University, was that we participate in a service day. We partnered with Mission Los Angeles (thanks to Christian, a fellow Stamps scholar), a faith-based organization that provides for the homeless in the downtown L.A. area. We spent the morning packing grocery boxes and handing out lunch sandwiches – a sensitive, touching experience. The line for lunch was at least a block long. People our age and younger were coming through to get what might have been their first and last meal of the day. The whole time, I thought how easily one of us could be in a situation like that. It put the entire trip in perspective.
A group of eight 18- and 19-year-olds was given the opportunity to travel across the country at the expense of the university we attend. Every night, we laid our heads on a bed. Every morning, we had the leisure to choose where we ate and what we did. Circumstances like homelessness and unemployment are amplified in big, expensive cities like L.A. Rent isn’t cheap anywhere, and meals are expensive. That feeling of uncertainty alone would drive me to new depths. That’s where organizations like Mission Los Angeles come in. We toured their campus building. They have a full multi-year program for the homeless to help turn things around. They have dorms, computer labs, classrooms, basketball courts, kitchens and many human resources. In that four-story building, every room was being utilized to help the community.
My trip to L.A. was marked by a lot of firsts. Namely, it was my first time traveling without family. I’ve been on small day trips with friends since entering college, but nothing this far. I’m grateful I got to spend time and bond with my Stamps family. As a city, I think L.A. is a little too big for me. Everywhere you look there’s something going on. Just not quite my speed. I’ll find my dream spot soon, though.
The Stamps Scholars Program awards incoming freshmen scholarships to cover the full cost of tuition, along with a $12,000 stipend for unique education pursuits. Students are chosen based on academic excellence, leadership experience and exceptional character. The program encourages all cohorts to travel together at least once for the opportunity to grow together.