Zehra Abbas, 23, history and gender studies
“I would say that my time here at UCLA has been defined by a lot of experiences. The person that I came in as a freshman is definitely not the same person who I am today. I came in as (a) pre-med and biology (student), and I did that for two years, and it was not working out – I just felt like I didn’t have enough resources to pursue it. So I switched from business economics to communications, but communications filled up, so then I switched to history and gender studies. Because I came in as a biology pre-med student, it was just really difficult – I’m a first-generation college student, my father is an immigrant – it was very difficult to understand college, when you didn’t have anyone in your family that has gone to college.Then I became pregnant during my sophomore year, and that changed a lot of different things for me. It really opened up my eyes to looking into how policies around higher education started.
UCLA has given me so many opportunities, and it’s been a great roller coaster experience that has definitely shaped me into who I am. The hardest challenge that I have had to face is that I thought I was superwoman and I could balance everything – I used to commute from Bakersfield, which is about two and a half hours away. I had a daughter, I came back to school when I was one week postpartum and I started commuting and trying to work 32 hours a week to try to make ends meet. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just knew that college was everything – for me, my daughter, my life. Without higher education I probably would not be able to succeed in the way that I envisioned my life.
I’m still three years on the waitlist for the child care here on campus, which is insane. I’ve always kept a very positive mentality in trying to figure out ‘what can we do to make a change.’ I really wanted to change some of the policies with parenting students, so I got an internship at the Students with Dependents office.
I’m stuck in a situation that is not ideal, since I’m still three years on the waiting list for early care and education through UCLA. Due to this, my daughter is watched by my mother-in-law who is gracious in helping out with me and supporting me through my education, but she is in Bakersfield. I go home to see my daughter on the weekends, and I have to stay on campus due to this very unideal situation. The cost of living for UCLA is ridiculous – $1,600, $1,700 a month to live in family housing, which is so unaffordable. To get the full experience, I moved back into the dorms, into Gardenia where I created a full set of friends that helped with my academic success. From there, I moved into a one-bedroom apartment shared by four people, and it was still pretty expensive.
After college, I’m taking a gap year. I plan on pursuing higher education in order to change some of these policies that happen – I’m really focused on helping nontraditional students. I want to pursue my master’s and eventually my EDD, which is an educational doctorate.”
Ridhi Arun, 21, neuroscience
“It’s really cliché, but I think I like the person that I am after four years of being at UCLA because it’s made me a lot more open minded and I’ve just been around so many incredible people that it has forced me to grow as a person in the best way possible. I realized that in this really big pond, I’m a very small fish, and I’m okay with that now. I’m just going to do me and it’s okay to be a small fish. You just have to do you and be okay with that and make peace with that.
I have no regrets because for me UCLA is just about the people; I’ve met so many incredible people here and that’s one of my biggest triumphs. I just have such a solid group of people in my life that I am so thankful to have, that have taught me so much and I know that they will continue to grow me in the future.
The dance team I was on (UCLA Nashaa) won a national championship during my sophomore year, and that was super awesome, when all the hours you put in comes to fruition. Going to Nicaragua and being part of the Pediatric Aids Coalition really led me to pursue global health. There’s just lots of little highlights.
Leaving UCLA hasn’t hit me yet, honestly. I come to Kerckhoff every day and I’m like, ‘It’s just tomorrow, I’ll be back, it’s fine.’ It just hasn’t hit me that I’m leaving, and that if I ever come back to UCLA, it won’t be my campus anymore. I’m excited, honestly. I think the future holds great things and I’m just excited for it.
I’m doing a one-year master’s program in the Bay Area in global health, because I really got interested in global health in my senior year. I’m just trying to pursue that more after college. I don’t really know where that will lead me – maybe med school, maybe not. I’m not really sure. I’m just excited to see where that takes me because I’m very passionate about it. Wherever it does take me, I’ll be happy about it because it’s genuinely what I want to do with my life.”
Eunice Jung, 21, psychobiology
“My time at UCLA has definitely been a learning experience. I came into college not even knowing what a PhD was, or what research was, and now I’m leaving with a plethora of experiences. I started to pursue becoming a doctor, so I started doing things in the hospital, and just really learning about different fields. I’m now the president of the Student Alumni Association and I serve on the board for Global Brigades and have leadership roles in two other clubs, so I hold five leadership roles.
I think I came in with a blank slate. I was naive about a lot of things. Meeting so many people and realizing that everyone has a story is what I take away from college. I think everyone’s dealing with balance; we are all high achieving individuals with goals, but at the end of the day, success and happiness both don’t come from just doing school things. I’m very happy with where I’m at, in terms of putting people as a priority. My freshman year I was like, ‘I need to get straight A’s!’ and I really put people on the back-burner. Sophomore year I really switched that priority in my life because I wanted my college experience to be meaningful, and I met the most incredible people who keep me humble and grateful.
I come from a small town, but it’s also in the greater region of the Bay Area. I came from a high school with all different races, all different social classes – in my little town there was only one high school. We have both conservative and liberal people; truly a very diverse background, and so it was a huge culture shock when I came to UCLA because to me this place is not diverse. I think that higher education is great but it is very sheltered; I care that everyone has a seat at the table because your past experiences shape how you view things.
I have faced racism at this school, but that is not representative of the subtle racism that happens on campus, which I honestly think is a bigger problem. My freshman year, I was walking from Franz Hall to Powell, and everyone was gone because it was the end of Spring quarter. It was just me, and I hear someone on the phone behind me and he was talking about the World Cup and proceeded to talk about how some Asian guy in his class said something about the country he was rooting for, and was saying all of these racial obscenities. I wanted to see who it was so I turned back and we happened to make eye contact. He looked at me dead in the eye and said, ‘Yeah, I’m talking about your people.’ I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say. He then said, ‘Oh, you should go work at Panda Express. … Why are your people here?’ and other things. I was so taken aback and I think I am the kind of person who would defend myself, but I didn’t know what to say. There is so much more to racism in the subtle things.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to prioritize the fact that we’re human. After the Trump election, a law professor said to me, ‘We all need to stop focusing on the differences, and realize that we are all human.’ We shouldn’t be so quick to judge – at the end of the day, everyone is someone’s kid.
I’m a psychobiology major, and I plan on going to med school. I know nothing about my Korean culture, so I’m going to go to Korea for a year. I don’t really know what I’m doing, just putting on a backpack and going. I’ll apply for med school when I come back, because I want to be a doctor. After med school I want to go into hospital administration to serve the community and make sure healthcare is representative of all people.”
Kai Convery, 22, communication studies with a minor in entrepreneurship
“It’s been incredible. UCLA has really taught me to appreciate the people around me, appreciate our world, even. It has helped me find my role in that, how I fit into the picture. There’s great opportunities here, you just have to reach out on your own and take them. UCLA doesn’t hold your hand, they don’t. There is something out there for everyone to do – if you’re passionate about it, you can do it here, so that’s cool.
I think identity has been my hardest challenge. Coming out of high school, you think you know who you are, but when you come to college you really don’t. Everyone is so smart, everyone is so driven, so talented – and those were the things that used to define you. If everyone’s on the same playing field, and you have no one to impress anymore, then who do you want to be? I think that’s been the biggest challenge for me personally, but I did it, so I feel good.
I’m bittersweet about leaving UCLA. I’m definitely sad that I won’t be able to see all of these people and be immersed in this environment. The energy of UCLA is fantastic, but I’m also really, really excited to just start my life and to start doing the things that I love to do and all that entails.
My plans are this: I’m going to be travelling during the summer, I’m going to put out a five-song EP, and then after that I’m coming home and I’m doing business development and sales for two different start-ups while working on my own start-up on the side.”
Sophia Fang, 20, English
“My time at UCLA has been faster and busier than I expected. This last year I’ve been working full-time (at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center) and taking classes full-time, so just trying to balance my schedule and my social life and trying to get everything done has been a challenge.
I think I regret not doing more cultural activities and not trying out more clubs. my triumph would be that I’m happy that I got really involved in the one club that I am in, which is Alpha Epsilon Delta.
I think I’m going to work at my job at Ronald Reagan (admin work, training to be an emergency medical technician) for another year and then I’m applying for law school – I’m thinking about health care law.”