Opinion: Finding home away from home at UCLA as an out-of-state student
(Alston Kao/Daily Bruin)
Aug. 19, 2023 8:53 p.m.
“You’re not from around here, are you?”
For many students, college is a time for exploration, learning and self-discovery. The newfound independence and responsibilities of adulthood are hallmarks of the undergraduate experience, which represents the first time most students live away from their families.
But for some students, the opportunity of higher education also comes with the opportunity to live in another part of the world, saying goodbye to home in search of a new one with all the consequences that may entail.
The struggles of adapting to the first year of college are often universal to the experience of many first-year students, and those at UCLA are no exception. Because of the long distance away from home, out-of-state students may feel the effects of certain challenges more acutely than their in-state counterparts.
Many columnists from the Daily Bruin’s Opinion section have written about their experiences adjusting to their first year at UCLA after moving from Ohio, Toronto, Italy and other places from around the world.
As a third-year out-of-state student from Washington, D.C., I may have a distinct perspective on what the out-of-state experience really is like at UCLA.
From my own experiences, I have pieces of advice on how to best shape your own college experience in a place that may seem daunting and isolating, but one which you will hopefully be able to call home – at least for now.
My experience as a Bruin began in the shadow of the pandemic. After a year and a half spent mostly stuck indoors, starting college seemed like an opportunity to escape the monotony of living in the confines of my family’s home.
Of all the universities I could have chosen, UCLA was the furthest from D.C. For my family, though, going to school 2,700 miles away from home was not entirely unprecedented. When she was only 17, my mom immigrated by herself to the United States from Finland to attend high school in New Mexico.
I took inspiration from my mother’s example and the courage that came with her decision to go far from home in pursuit of her dreams.
But it’s also clear looking back how difficult it really was to leave my family for so long and live so far away. At first, I think the novelty of the place in which I found myself was overwhelming.
But soon the feelings of homesickness hit. Sometimes in waves, sometimes all at once, the emotional impact of my decision would strike me.
Those feelings of isolation certainly weren’t helped by how rare it was to find another student from Maryland or Virginia, let alone the city of Washington, D.C. itself.
It was during this time that I began a habit of taking walks around campus at night. Without the crowds of students, I could appreciate the beauty of UCLA and clear my mind.
I recognize, of course, that even a simple activity like that is a privilege that not every student can necessarily take advantage of because of safety concerns.
Despite the difficulties of being so far from my family and friends in D.C., I found a new sense of community and belonging during my first day on campus when I met my roommates Kevin and Zhou.
This fall, we plan to continue being roommates, after two years of bonding through cooking meals together and exploring Los Angeles on public transportation – a difficult but not entirely impossible task that might be easier next year with the introduction of free public transit for UCLA students.
While UCLA is full of people, its size can often be intimidating and isolating in a way that smaller colleges might not be. Finding friends and building a support group here, however, is an essential step to adapting to the uncertainties and challenges of campus life.
One particularly valuable resource for out-of-state students is the Out Of State Student Association, which hosts events throughout the year that bring out-of-state and international students together for on-campus socials and off-campus trips.
In doing so, these events help to build community and establish a sense of solidarity between a set of students with a variety of lived experiences and united by their diversity.
This network is valuable because it’s important not to underestimate the mental and emotional effects of being homesick. Especially when they mix with everything else that brings stress into college life, whether it be academics, work, social life or anything else.
To combat these struggles, the university’s principal mental health program is Counseling and Psychological Services, which provides therapy and other wellness services for students. While this program is not without flaws, its services can be absolutely vital.
While transitioning to college life in a brand new city can be very challenging – and it’s essential to acknowledge that – it can also represent a formative experience, one that can help you grow on the path to adulthood.
Let go of your assumptions about living in LA. Embrace the many opportunities that this campus can provide. Your experience here, like everywhere else in our little universe, can only ever be what you make of it.
And don’t forget to bring some clothing for colder temperatures, seriously. Don’t end up like me getting ambushed by a hail storm on the way to a 9 a.m. class.
I can only hope this advice will be of some use to all those who’ve journeyed so far to join our Bruin community.
Wherever you may come from, welcome to UCLA. I hope you’ll enjoy your time here.