It’s a mild Thursday afternoon and I’m scrambling to find my earphones. I gather my notebook, phone, and pen in one hand and my cup of tea in the other. I’m sitting in the London Study Centre’s conference room when I call Lidia, an English major student from UCLA studying at Bristol, to see what’s she’s been up to.
How’s Bristol been treating ya?
It’s been really great! Studying abroad can definitely have its challenges but the benefits outweigh any difficulties and it’s been very rewarding.
That’s really good to hear! How’s life different studying here compared to UCLA?
It’s definitely different! Back at home I’m a commuter and transfer student, so I really had to become involved on campus to integrate and have the space to pursue my interests. Restarting at a new Uni yet again, I didn’t want to fully leave that comfort behind. So as an international student, I felt like it was important to reach out before arriving to find any opportunities that would also allow me to interact with local students who have similar interests. But overall, the differences of living in student housing and attending Bristol have been refreshing!
How did you get involved with student activities at Bristol?
With some activities, I came across them once I arrived and attended the Welcome Fair. This was how I found Bristol’s DJ Society. But prior to that, during the summer, I did some research on student societies that were in line with my interests and came across the website of Bristol’s student radio station. From there, I reached out through their contact page requesting info on how to get involved and received a response with the application for numerous positions. I applied to be Head of Music, had a quick Skype interview, and hoped to hear back – which I did!
Woah! That’s so cool, why did you decide on the radio and not something else?
Back in LA, I’m a production assistant at KCRW, and I’m in the production department of UCLA Radio, where I also host my own UK rap show. This show really built a lot of relationships for me, and ultimately helped me find my place in the UK. Artists started reaching out to me, and I started making more personal connections with UK rap artists and producers, while still in California. When I was thinking of studying abroad, I figured I’d do the same thing in Bristol.
What are your responsibilities as head of music at Bristol?
My tasks involve organizing and attending meetings, playlisting, sifting through thousands of emails to keep up with music submissions, and making sure that whatever music I upload onto the station computer doesn’t contain explicit language. My favourite responsibility of course is curating the music for own show, as I turned the tables and host an American rap show here.
How did you get into UK rap back in California?
Well, growing up in LA, I was already really into hip-hop and rap, and have always tried to explore international rap as well. After visiting the UK a couple of times and hearing some grime, I started to get more into it, but back in the States everyone had an aversion to it. I blamed this on the production, since it’s more “electronic” and just entirely different from US rap. Once I looked outside the genre of grime, I started to find UK rap subgenres that I was certain the US could appreciate. I realized that to a majority of us Americans, UK rap = grime. This isn’t true. Just like the US, there’s trap, drill, etc. and multicultural influences with intersections between afrobeats, reggae, etc. Also, one of my friends (a UK producer, Reggie Got Band$) pointed out to me the common US misconception that UK rappers are just “posh” or don’t have experiences to be rapping about, which is not the case. Just like US rap, it can touch on a lot of important issues like gang violence, racism, and other hardships that should not be discredited. Even with UK drill, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding conflict with the government and shutting down their shows. There was a whole genre of incredible music, and stories, being entirely slept on. This motivated me to start my UK rap show.
I don’t often ask students to compare their UC experience to their experience abroad but, can you compare your experiences on radio back in California versus here in the UK?
Yeah no problem, so in terms of my shows – back at UCLA I’m focused on finding new UK rap artists that aren’t really that big in LA yet. Here I kind of do the opposite. At Bristol’s station, I host a US rap show because I’m targeting a different audience. Playing artists’ music is mutually beneficial to me and the artists. On both of my shows, the artists can then say they’ve been played internationally, and I get to have an excuse to learn, talk about my interests, and have fun. Also, outside of my shows, I’m on the production side back in LA. So my responsibilities there deal more with setting up equipment for live bands, recording, etc. At Bristol my role has more of a focus on the music itself.
What are some differences you’ve noticed in the LA and UK music scenes?
Mainly that in LA there’s a larger demographic for Hip Hop and rap music. Whereas the UK has more listeners for more electronic-based genres, like drum n’ bass, garage, house, jungle, etc. Then even those have subgenres like liquid drum and bass, and more that I still need to learn about. A lot of us in LA just group all of that together under “EDM,” which I’ve learned is not accurate. Also, the UK loves its disco!
What’s some advice you have for people considering studying abroad?
EVERYONE SHOULD DO IT. The experience for me has been enriching and rewarding. I feel like I’m doing something lucrative. When you are abroad you learn, you enhance your goals, you improve your resume, you gain international experience and you get the added bonus of exploring a different culture. If you’re having a hard time deciding, there’s really no reason not to study abroad. Come and do extracurriculars, get involved, and grow.
That’s really useful advice, I know a lot of students can relate to this. Is there anything else you want to add?
Yeah, I also want to tell people that are thinking about studying abroad but are unsure that this is my first time moving out. I know not living at home can be scary but if I can do it, anyone can. If you’re a commuter student back at UC, or a transfer student that’s afraid of another fresh start, don’t be intimidated; it’s a learning experience and it’s fun when you get the hang of it.
What’s some advice you have for students currently studying abroad that are feeling a little homesick?
I just remind myself that it’s temporary. For me, LA is always going to be there and this opportunity is limited so I’m trying to make the most out of it. When I’m really missing home, I get Armenian food to feel more at home.
Last but not least, why did you choose to study abroad at Bristol?
I chose to come here because it’s accessible to London where I could go and see a lot of the artists I love, but I really just wanted to go somewhere and start fresh. There’s so much to do here and I love to explore the UK outside of just London.
Sounds like a good enough reason! Tell me about your favourite UK rap artists? Do you have any favourite music venues here?
My favourite UK rap artists change all the time. I always go off and post all of my playlists on my show’s Instagram (@sote.wav) but right now, I’d say my top picks are House of Pharaohs, Lancey Foux, SL, CRS, Lee Scott, and so much more. I do have some favourite venues! My favorite spot is Soup Kitchen, in Manchester. It’s small, has affordable tickets, and eclectic music. In terms of South, although not a venue I like the club Phonox in Brixton on Saturday nights because it’s one of the few spots where DJs play rap and other music I’m used to hearing out in LA. In Bristol, I like Thekla purely because it’s a cargo ship, which is really cool.
Sounds like you’ve really explored and immersed yourself into life at Bristol! Thanks for talking to me and for sharing with us a little bit about your study abroad experience!