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Freshman Year of College, Baby.

Senior Year, Decisions, California, Majors, Cars, and Questions.

So, let me start off by telling you that I’ve always been a pretty high achiever in school, just objectively. I was in the higher math class in third grade, with Mrs. Ferrier in the corner classroom on the second floor of Ocean City Primary School. I would do minute maths and pretend I understood things. In middle school, I would shuffle to my Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) enrichment while most of the grade went to normal enrichment classes. I got into the middle school physics program, algebra program, and any other programs available. In high school, that idea that I needed to push myself to be the best I could be academically stuck with me, despite the fact that my class level was up to my own discretion. Like all my friends at the time, I took all honors classes, all AP as they became available to me. I was a year ahead in math classes and somehow felt behind for not being two years ahead. AP French, Language and Composition, Government and Politics, American History, Chemistry, and Literature.

Middle school me in my middle school drip with my middle school friends!!

Anyways, in high school, the college you committed to seemed like the most important thing in the world. By halfway through senior year, it was all anyone could talk about. Somehow, the college process and decision became “who could get into the best school?” rather than the importance being placed on picking the right school for you. The lower the acceptance rate, the better the school, the smarter you were: that’s how it seemed to me. And I bought right into it. I was choosing a school to go to based on the impression I thought it would leave on the rest of my grade, which looking back now I cringe thinking about.

I was a cheerleader in high school and I’m not gonna lie, I to try to avoid telling people that.

When I started to get back college decisions and financial package offers, I realized quickly that the acceptance rate was the least important factor to consider. The numbers that had danced around me on my college search became very real. That amount would have to be paid. And my mind turned to money.

While I looked for schools, I knew I wanted to stay in the Northeast. One thing that my family constantly jokes about is how much I hate the cold. I’m always freezing. I have a space heater in my room that runs throughout winter in its entirety because my family (and our heating bill) cannot keep up with my standards of warmth. I liked the idea of going somewhere warm for college, so I considered my options. I didn’t want to go to Florida, everyone from my grade was headed there, and as I grew up visiting Florida usually multiple times a year, I already wasn’t very fond of the state. Crazy people live there. I had visited South Carolina to visit a college there with a couple friends senior year and had decided I could never go to school there. It seemed a little too right-wing? Lots of Trump hats and American flags, which didn’t make me feel great. I didn’t want to go to Mississippi, Alabama, or anywhere in the deep South, for clear reasons. I was sure I wouldn’t like it in Texas, would be deathly bored in the midwest, and overheated in the true deserts of New Mexico or Arizona. Which left me with California as the only place in the southern half of the country I felt was a viable option. I had already crafted my list of universities to apply to and had already sent my application to nearly all of them, but one day at dinner, my mother mentioned “You should apply to a least one place that’s warm”, so I opened my laptop and searched Google for “Schools in California”.

One of the first few Google offered to me was University of San Diego. I looked at the pictures that were under its profile on Google, and I thought it looked really pretty. So without looking further down on the list, I opened the common application and started to fill it out, as the deadline for turning in applications was the next day. I barely looked at the website, didn’t do any research for other schools in California, or even look at a tour. I wrote two short essays within half an hour and sent in my application. After that, the University of San Diego was almost entirely out of my brain.

When I got in, I wasn’t that surprised, as the acceptance rate was far below some other schools I had gotten into already and I had decent stats. What I was surprised about was when I got their financial aid offer.

At the time, I was on a bus in full stage makeup, a Hawaiian-themed dance costume, and was clutching a turquoise untuned ukelele, about to perform on stage at Downtown Disney. I was there with my dance studio at the time, on a semi-annual trip to Disney with my closest friends at the time to perform a fifteen-minute long rendition of a Disney story, this year being Lilo and Stitch. I was Nani, the older sister. On the bus, I got the news that the University of San Diego was offering me over $50,000 in financial aid, bringing the cost of attendance down to under $10,000 a semester. I had never expected to really even consider going to school there. In fact, I was almost sure I would go to University of Connecticut at the time. Until I saw those numbers. Then California became a very real possibility.

I said all through high school that I wanted to go far away for school. Not because I hated New Jersey or growing up in Ocean City, but just because I wanted to go somewhere new. I wanted to try something different. I liked to think I was a northeastern type of girl, despite never really being able to confirm that (as I didn’t know any other type of girl, having only lived in New Jersey). I, after an important talk with my parents, to make sure they were on board, decided to commit to USD, right before my deposit was due.

I was excited, but also somewhat nervous. I knew I was going to be very far away, but somehow that didn’t bother me much to think about. I was scared, but more so about non-location-specific college things, such as hard classes and making new friends for the first time. I had generally been friends with the same people my entire life and feared not being good at having to start from scratch. The distance was irrelevant, I was much more excited about the idea of being somewhere new. But I felt some sort of sense of accomplishment. I felt independent, strong-willed, and brave. No one else I knew was going as far away from home for school and I felt, as silly as it seems now, cool.

Still proud of that grad cap I’m not gonna lie.

I had been dating my boyfriend at the time for around six months. He was one of the first people I told, after my parents, that I had decided on USD. I remember lying on his bed at his mother’s house while we spoke.

“I decided on San Diego”

“Oh. That’s far.”

“Yeah. It is.”

And that’s mostly where it stayed. Neither one of us was sure what would happen with our relationship, and there was a mutual understanding that we would make decisions about it later, which we did later that summer.

Throughout the summer, I would tell people at work when they asked that I was moving to California for school, and hear the same responses commenting on the distance or the weather. I liked being able to tell people I was going to USD. I’m not sure if that came from pride at not being scared to go so far, not being like most other people from my class, or simply having the certainty of knowing where I was going in the fall. (Uncertainty in my future scares me, and parts of senior year were anxiety-ridden at the thought that I had no clue what any part of my life would look like just months later. ) It was probably all three.

USD, all through the summer, seemed like this magical faraway place that I was only mostly sure existed. No one from New Jersey had been there or knew of it, or would talk about it in the same way they spoke about Rowan or St. Joesph’s or Westchester. I never saw it on a sweatshirt, or on a hat walking down the street. I remember when I went to a committed students event in New York City for people from the East Coast who were going to be freshmen. That was the first time I even got to speak or interact in real life with someone who had been to USD, who even knew what it was. It was almost surreal, looking at the USD decorations and stickers on the coffee table. It suddenly became very real to me. This was a real place, and it had plastic pens with its logo on them.

Dripped out in USD.

I have this need to know things. As aforementioned, I dislike uncertainty, so I tend to do a lot of planning and research with things such as this. With college, I went to my usual lengths of planning. There were many, many lists. Many bullet points, many to-dos, many sections and titles, and subtitles and sub-subtitles. But I really lacked in the research. I watched one tour of USD that I found on YouTube made by a student a couple years prior. I watched about eight minutes of it while walking on a treadmill at Somer’s Point Fitness before I got bored of it and stopped watching. I did virtually no research on San Diego. There was no differentiation in my mind of places in California. I knew of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Apart from that, every city was the same to me. Even in my first few months at school when in-state students would tell me where they were from, I would have no idea what they were talking about. Bay Area, Orange County, Carlsbad, Malibu, Santa Barbra, Irvine, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Anaheim. I didn’t know one from another. I thought of them all as the same. Nothing particularly drew me to San Diego, I just happened to apply here. And even within San Diego, all the interworkings of the city I now know well: Little Italy, The Gaslamp District, La Jolla, Linda Vista, Coronado, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Misson Beach.

San Diego from above on my very first cross-country flight. Kinda surreal for me.

And then I came here. The first time I stepped foot on USD’s campus was the day before I moved in. That fact is still so crazy to me. Lucky for me, it worked out. University of San Diego is a private catholic school. It was rated by Princeton Review as the most beautiful campus in the whole country. And god, were they right. It is fucking gorgeous. Every part of it. It’s like walking through paradise, our little ivory city on a hill. And it is. You can see it from Mission Beach, from the ocean. The unmistakable Spanish Renaissance buildings gleam from atop a green mountain, overlooking the Tecolote Canyon.

Those are all pictures from on campus that I took on my phone. It really was just absolutely gorgeous, everywhere.

My first year of school was a whirlwind. I loved it, and I hated it. I made friends with some girls I thought I loved, turns out they weren’t exactly the friends for me. I made other friends, who were all such lovely beautiful people. I went to vintage clothing fairs in Pacific Beach. I watched Glee in the common room and made pancakes on a baking sheet high as fuck. I walked to the dining hall and ate dinner with my friends every night. I wrote papers about the objectification of women and fast fashion. I met a professor I loved. I registered voters. I ate brunch hungover on Saturday mornings. I watched history documentaries on Netflix and tanned outside my dorm building in bikinis. I became great friends with my roommate. I went thrifting at a Goodwill much nicer than my own. I discovered and fell hard for Din Tai Fung. I shopped at outdoor malls and started going to the gym. I saw rattlesnakes while hiking in the canyon, and I walked to frat parties wearing jeans and bra tops with groups of eight girls. I went out to nice birthday dinners and laid on beaches. I drove around with Gabbie and Oskar after Applebees listening to SZA and went for a night walk around Bellmont Park and Mission Beach. I went to the coolest brunch restaurant ever for my ninetieth birthday with Saetia, Niki, Soph, and Hailey. I drank coffee and got avocado toast with mozzarella cheese and chipotle mayo. I dressed up for Halloween and wore Eagles green for the Super Bowl. I went to the farmers market in Little Italy when Saetia’s mom visited, and I went to all the women’s volleyball games. I took finals and midterms and got As in every class I took. I presented presentations and spent entire nights in the library. And I did a lot of other things. And I had a great time. But there were some issues too.

Driving is something that I have always loved. Like every other high schooler, I was excited to get my license, and a month before my seventeenth birthday bought a car outright with cash I had earned by working two jobs since I was fourteen. I fell in love with driving. I would take any excuse to go for a drive, and I would go for drives even if I didn’t have one. I was the first of my friends to get my license and consequently became a chauffeur until they did, but I didn’t mind. Driving was something I could do to feel better. It always grounded me, cleared my head, and helped me feel better. It gave me the ability to choose not to stay in a living arrangement that was bad for me. It calms my anxiety. The point is, I love to drive. Which is why freshman year was such a struggle. At USD, freshmen aren’t allowed to have cars, though it wasn’t hard to get around that and I saw plenty do it, including my roommate and friend Amanda, as well as some other friends. I didn’t think it to be that much of an issue, being that most freshmen in colleges everywhere don’t have cars, and they fend just fine. After all, campuses tend to have most necessities within a walking radius. And to be fair, USD did. But not being able to drive slowly ate away at me. I tried to replace my drives with walks, which did help a bit, but obviously, it wasn’t the same. USD was also not as accessible to get places as I thought. There was a little shopping center down the hill from campus, about a ten-minute walk that I did often, but apart from a Starbucks and some cafes, there wasn’t much to see. I felt unsafe walking any further, alone or with friends. It was the outskirts of the city, and walking alongside highways with no path or through parts of the city I felt on alert even driving through was not worth it for me. Ubering places like Target in Misson Valley to buy shampoo and mascara, or to get my hair done in Hillcrest killed me. Uber became my lifeline to get anywhere- restaurants, the Fashion Valley Mall, parties we couldn’t walk to, the airport, everything. And besides being expensive, I just longed to drive.

On USD’s Campus, there are things called Zipcars. Basically after making an account and paying for a subscription, you could rent one of a few cars on campus hourly, about 10-15 dollars an hour. I didn’t know about them for the longest time until my friend Grace got one for me, Caley, Paige, and her to go run errands in Misson Valley. I asked if I could drive and was indulged. And oh man, it was great. I felt so happy, I could not stop smiling the entire time, probably looking way too excited to wander around Trader Joes looking for mojito ingredients. Up to that point, I didn’t really realize how much not being able to drive had affected me.

Me in said Zipcar.

For the next several months, it felt like anytime I could even get my roommate or friends to drive somewhere with me, even just being in a car was just cleansing. It made me feel happy. One day about three months before the end of the school year, I was not doing great. I had had a terrible week, was extremely anxious, my emotions were all over the place, I had had a panic attack a few days prior, and I was generally just a depressed mess. I thought about it and the only thing that made me even want to get down from my lofted dorm bed was driving, so I paid around $35 for a couple hours of driving.

That drive was what I needed, and after calming down after driving for a while, I did a whole lot of thinking. Driving around Southern California by myself for the first time, I realized some shit.

ONE I decided on my major for my Undergraduate Studies. I spent the first year of school undecided as they required freshmen to do. Whenever people asked about my major in high school, I would say Sociology, because, after a brief Google search, it seemed like something I would be interested in. I didn’t even really understand what it was, but it felt strange to tell people I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to study. When I first got to school and took my Sociology 101 class, I realized I loved the topic, and I loved learning about it. I took another two sociology classes in my second semester. And while I still do love it, all I’ve ever really felt passionate about learning is Women’s and Gender Studies. Honestly, I think I could learn my entire life about feminism and the world we live in and never get bored of it. I’ve always known that’s what I love and want to learn, but I never considered it as a major through most of high school because I thought it was not plausible and a ‘stupid choice’ (as men told me my freshman year, not that I asked). However, I realized during my freshman year of school that a degree in women’s studies is what I wanted to do. I would burn out majoring in anything else, I think. And honestly, I was just looking for a degree for undergrad. A diploma. I can always do a master’s or go to law school or whatever else I want in another field. And maybe it will be so hard to find a job out of school. Maybe it won’t. Maybe I won’t do anything concerning Gender Studies. Maybe I will. But for right now, it’s what I want to do, so I’m doing it.

Some of my faves on my desk.

TWO Driving makes me feel better, and that isn’t stupid. I realized that being able to drive is essential for me. Essential to help my anxiety, essential to feel productive, and essential to my life if I want to live it the way I want to live it. I knew I would need access to a car for the rest of college. I honestly felt so stupid about how much not being able to drive affected me, until someone told me that if something makes me feel better, it’s not dumb. Let’s all just take what we can get out of this world. If something helps you not feel bad, let it and don’t feel stupid about it.

Me, the morning of my seventeenth birthday in front of my very first car, a 2010 Nissan Altima I bought myself for $5,500 I earned working two jobs since I was fourteen. This was the day I got my driver’s license!

THREE I need to transfer schools. I realized that California, as much as I loved it, wasn’t where I needed to be at the time. I was struggling with a myriad of different mental health issues and needed to be closer to my support network, my friends, my boyfriend at the time, my family, and my home. I was so tired of flying back and forth on the cheapest airlines that were still so very expensive, getting stuck in Las Vegas every couple of months, flying to four different airports before getting home, and throwing up in airplane bathrooms because of bad airport food. I wanted to be able to drive from my school home for winter and summer breaks. Also, USD didn’t have gender studies as a major, which was one of the main reasons I wanted to transfer. I want to live in California again at some point in my life because I truly did love it out there, but I came to decide that college is not the time of my life that is best for that. I decided to live on the West Coast when I could simply live there, not halfway between two places so far away. Life is long enough and open enough that I can return to California, or anywhere else for that matter, at a time that is not now.

Packing up an entire living situation and moving back to the East Coast was no easy feat. I ended up donating almost everything in my dorm. What I could sell for a time-worthy amount of money, I sold on Facebook marketplace for a couple weeks leading up to moving out. What I knew would put me over my suitcase weight limit, I shipped home in USPS Priority Mail to my home in Jersey. Priority mail is priced per package rather than by weight, so it made the most sense because I wanted to pack my (2!) suitcases with lighter items to fit more in. For all the other stuff I had, I decided to rent a car for a few hours and make a huge trip to a local women’s shelter in the city. After calling to make sure they were accepting everything I had, I organized everything in boxes labeled “Hygiene”, “Clothes”, “Food”, etc. My friends and roommate gave me other donations to drop off and helped me load them into my rented Prius. It was a really humbling experience, and put into perspective for me even the amount of privilege I had to be able to go to college, to have the money in my bank account to buy things as I needed them, and to live comfortably within my means. Knowing that I was helping women who needed these things more than me gave me an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the things I tend to take for granted, whether it be granola bars or tampons. I was happy to be able to do it.

FOUR I can’t let bitches who were mean to me in high school still be dictating my life. Or anyone’s thoughts about my decisions, for that matter. I’ve spent so much fucking time thinking about what other people think of my actions. One of my main fears about transferring (especially to a school closer to home) was what the people I was friends with when I chose USD would think about me. I pictured them talking shit about me to each other behind my back, snickering about how I couldn’t handle being so far from home, or how I clearly couldn’t do what I thought I could. The thought of it was paralyzing. Honestly, it was something that played a way bigger role in my decision to transfer than it should have. I felt like a massive failure already for deciding to transfer, I had so much guilt as well as fear. I was about to start over from scratch. I had made a lovely community for myself in San Diego. Friends I loved, a university I loved attending. Professors I went to office hours to get a hug and life advice. Favorite restaurants in the city. Beaches I preferred over others. I knew it. I had a future there that was mine if I wanted it. But I was choosing to take this massive jump into the unknown. A new school with no friends, no familiar city, no warm weather or beaches, nothing. I was choosing to start over. And that required at least some small amount of bravery. As sure I was that this was what I wanted, the thought of taking that jump was still terrifying. On top of that, I felt like a failure. Like I was deviating from the perfect path I was told was normal and correct in high school. Picking a school and a major going there for exactly four years and graduating. But that is such bullshit. Not following the exact steps I thought I would doesn’t make me a failure, and honestly way fewer people than everyone thinks end up staying on that established path. I thought transferring was embarrassing, a sign that I didn’t do as well(??) as my peers during my first year of school. But really, it’s not that deep. The school I chose at seventeen didn’t have the major I realized I wanted to do at nineteen, so I decided to go to a different school. Anyone else’s thoughts on that are unimportant. They are not me, they don’t know why I am choosing to do what I am, and their thoughts (even if they are negative) deserve none of my concern. In the end, we all only have one life. We can’t be wasting it by worrying about what people who have no place in our future will think of our choices. Missing an opportunity because you fear judgment is only hurting yourself.

Because I realized so late that I wanted to transfer, many school’s transfer application deadlines had already passed. I ultimately ended up committing to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, because it made the most sense financially and was possible within my time limits. The entire process was rushed and hectic, and I started from not knowing if I would be even able to go to any school in the fall and being forced to stay at home. Once I did commit, that process was almost worse, from housing being full to nearly none of my classes transferring correctly to trying to register for new classes. It was really testing. But, I made it through, and now I move in in exactly five days.

I even felt for a while that my time in California never really happened. Like I skipped a year of my life somehow, by choosing the wrong college the first time. I knew I wouldn’t be going to USD for sophomore year, wouldn’t be going back to the amazing group of friends I made out there (that I miss so fucking much), wouldn’t be going back to the life I made there, ever. And even thinking about that now just depresses me. I’ve spent a lot of my time since deciding to leave wondering if it was the right choice. It certainly doesn’t feel like it. But that’s not something I can ever know for sure, and the fact of the matter is that I did decide to leave, so anxiously dwelling on it will do me no good. The point is, it wasn’t a blip in my life, and it did happen. I am a different person than I was when I went to California. It changed me a lot, and I’m grateful for that.

And, unfortunately, it took until now to stop feeling like shit about the entire thing. Everything I mentioned about how we can’t let others’ opinions dictate our futures and our lives? It took an entire summer to be able to tell myself that and believe it. It wasn’t a quick and easy process, but it wasn’t impossible either.

A double rainbow sunset one of my first nights at Rutgers.

My first year out of high school was a mess. Completely. And this entire post is only about the school part of it. I was struggling with a lot of different things. A relationship going downhill. A breakup. An eating disorder. Friendships ending. New friendship betrayals. And a whoooole lot of other shit. (hey, more blog content if nothing else). But this year of my life has taught me more about myself and what makes me happy than any other period of my life. There has been a lot of positive shit this year along with. the negatives. I’ve learned so much, made the most beautiful relationships with people who matter to me, and learned how to find peace within myself.

I’ve been adding, editing, and writing this post since the winter of 2022. Now it is the end of summer 2023. I’m about to move into my apartment at Rutgers and start my classes on track to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (probably) along with minors in Sociology and French Language. My new year is wide open for whatever I decide to fill it with. I’m sure there’s much to come, and that is a beautiful thought.