College Survival Tips in San Francisco, California

In 2009, Academy of Art University in San Francisco offered me a golf scholarship. From a meager 18-year old Filipina girl, to now a well-equipped, working woman, I was transformed by learning about production, culture, art education and survival skills. In four years I spent there, I’ve been awarded three All-American honors for my golf performance and high grades. 

Life as a student-athlete in art school: 5AM workouts, three-hour long classes, 18 holes in the afternoon, art projects at night. All in one day.

As a way to reciprocate all the blessings in my time there, I’m sharing tips on the many important points I’ve learned. Those generic, “How to Survive College” or “Guide to Freshman Year” teaches you nothing else beside keep your head down and study. I, on the other hand, crafted this survival guide on how to flourish in college / live in the city of San Francisco / study art.

1. Explore the City

I only got out to explore the city during sophomore year. I should have started earlier, because there’s so much to see! Even though going out usually means spending money, it doesn’t have to be. San Francisco Walking Tours is an organization by volunteers, who are assigned to each neighborhood and will expertly walk you through it. I went a little crazy and have done about fifteen of them… but hey. (insert img-2. Caption: Shameless photo collage of all my SF Walking Tour adventures.)

My favorite is Linda’s tour called, “Taste and Tales of North Beach.” Every Wednesday, she will come out and meet you with a bag of food: dark chocolate, Bruschetta bread, salami, etc. These are all samples from the several food, coffee, library, and secret spots you’ll discover on her tour. I love her so much that once, I had to ask my teacher if I could leave class early and go to her tour instead.

Another site I always check is Fun Cheap SF. It is always constantly updated and genuinely fun to peruse. Once, I watched Shakespeare’s “Othello” play for free. They post so many parties… Anyway, it’s like the sophisticated Craigslists version of every event happening in the city. Click away!

2. Apartment MUST-haves:

a. Rice Cooker – saved me $$$ from eating out and/or getting fat. I bought brown rice by the kilos, and ate everything with rice. Eggs, ham, Filipino dishes, dim sum, chicken strips. I use my own small rice cooker everyday, and it’s one of the best investments in the four years I’ve lived here.

b. Airtight Containers – Think of cheeses: delicious, useful. Then think of them rotting in a few days because, First: you cannot finish the whole chunk. Second, you simply forget about them. Here enters the air tight containers. Coming in different sizes, this is one of the few things that assured me I’ll be fed. During my nine-hour class days, I have several of them filled to the brim with beef steak and rice, buttered potatoes or pasta. Bonus: You will save Earth from wasteful food-throwing.

c. Baking Soda – The ultimate everything-er. From whitening teeth, to cleaning out burned microwaves, baking soda is the most powerful weapon for your naturalist/cheap/noob-expert needs. Yesterday, I cleaned out tea stains from my porcelain cups. In a minute, it’s whiter than new. I also add baking soda to my laundry, making my bleached socks even whiter when it dries. For cleaning floors, you’ll notice clarity most industrial cleaning solutions can’t even try. Baking soda is a MUST in your kitchen.

3. Call 311

I’m an international student from the Philippines, so I needed time to adhere to US road maps. That, and I’m also always getting lost. Calling 311 from your phone is the direct line to the MUNI bus lines.

Advance tip: After dialing 311, type in 112 on your phone and it will take you to a real person. He will answer questions on how to get a destination or bus stop or nearest everything that will take you back to humanity. The 311 line has saved me from paying for expensive cab rides, and it’s an assurance that wherever you are in SF, there’s a helping hand (voice).

4. Kinda Avoid the Tenderloin

Before I even came to the city, a sophomore volleyball girl toured me around. In a sudden serious tone, she said: “I walk to the buildings even past midnight, it’s safe here. But there are areas you need to avoid, like O’Farell. Never walk there at night.” It’s an advice I took by heart, and I believe served me well all these years.

In San Francisco, there’s an area called the ‘Tenderloin’, which unfortunately covers a big part of downtown. Virtual Tourist highlights those areas for you. (Disclaimer: Like all else, the Tenderloin can be okay — especially housing there is cheap — but caution is always needed.)

I avoided the streets inside the red marks, also known by locals as “the Tenderloin.”

5. Watch This Video About Productivity

My friends, art school is boot camp. Every class syllabus states that we are to spend ten hours for each homework every week. If you have the typical four classes, multiply that by four and you have an average of 40 hours per week of assignments. How do you balance school, social life, and a fulfilling experience altogether?

What have always served me well are productivity techniques. 99u is an excellent site with so much to share. From them, I found this comprehensive and concise explanation about how to manage time better. Bet you that will help.

The Science Of Productivity –

6. Learn About What Our School Is Offering

One faculty member once revealed to me that we have the most extensive system for help in and outside of classes. We have ARC tutoring, the ESL Department, Career Services, etc. If you’ll ever need someone to look over your paper, send them 500 words and they’ll correct it for you. Even one-on-one tutoring on any type of subject or software is available.

Academy of Art is extremely generous in providing us whatever we need. Recently, that is the free CS6 Adobe Master Suite Collection. Go to the Industrial Design lab and you’ll have dozens of Cintiqs. The MPT department has a RED camera and the Fashion department free subscription to top magazines. Did you know that you can borrow free DVDs from our library? I just rented Black Swan and Dark Knight. If you’re looking for a book that’s not catalogued, they’ll order one for you. Find out what your department — what our school — is giving away for free. That is a lot to be said for those who continue to be ignorant and miss out.

Advance Tip: AAU students get discounts all over the city! Ask first before you purchase. Examples are every art and supply store, most restaurants and eating establishments, even movies. Check out this list to find out more.

7. And Moreover

Piggy-backing on the fact that our school goes out and beyond to support us, these are top two of my favorite departments:

1. Campus Life – They organize out-of-town trips, such as this upcoming Yosemite one. For $100, you’ll get three days and two nights stay at a cabin and get free food, transportation and park tickets. I’ve gone twice, and met enduring friendships along the way. The other past trips included Las Vegas, Monterey Bay, Tahoe and Disneyland.

2. Recreation – is this website! I take advantage of them the most, because I think it’s important for a term called, “Productive Pause.”  I go to Leila Swenson’s yoga classes at least once a week. I’m somewhere here in this picture. 

AAU Recreation classes have Aikido, Hip hop, Belly Dancing, Swimming, Rock Climbing, etc. They even have midterms and finals massages and expert online chats about wellness, all either very cheap or free. Just check their facebook page for the different class schedules.

It all boils down to my self-promise of work + life balance. It should be great that you’re in an art school, or living in one of the most geographically beautiful cities in the world, and at the same time, come home knowing proper work is done. These are nuggets of wisdom and hope the list guides you as it did mine. 

Genuine happiness is knowing how good things are.” – Marianne Williamson

MAX life.