Freshmen approaching move-in day feel a mix of emotions: fear, excitement and nausea over how much your parents are going to embarrass you. I didn’t get to worry about my mom breaking out an embarrassing blanket or baby doll from home. Instead I felt jealousy over every parent that tearfully said goodbye or argued over how much stuff they brought. Because no one did that for me.
Was that unfortunate or fortunate? The jury’s still out on that one.
I read every article under the sun about what to bring to college when I committed to the University of California, Los Angeles. Facebook groups, college veterans and Buzzfeed articles packed full of advice wanted to help me, but I somehow ignored them all.
Do I bring four pairs of heels? Yes. Posters for everything I liked since I was 13? Yes. Chemistry notes from high school? Yes. Was I taking chemistry in college? Nope.
Two years on, I’m still trying to convince the saner version of myself that hoarder-me does not need all my books from my Classical Mythology class just in case I “need something to read.” Hoarder-me is currently still winning.
Regardless, this indecisiveness led to me having not one, not two, but three huge suitcases (one of which was a four-foot-long duffel) that I dragged by myself to my dorm. Add a backpack and a leather jacket I decided to bring to L.A. in summer, and you could say I struggled. This example falls into the “unfortunate” category of the solo move-in day experience.
At UCLA, we have about 31,000 undergraduates and about 45,000 students overall. Eleven thousand students live on campus in the dorms. This means that within the span of move-in weekend, 11,000 people all move into the same buildings with all of their families. Did I mention the only access involves one way road? You hit that after fighting through Los Angeles traffic in the summer.
Here’s where the fortunate part for me comes in. When I moved in, I didn’t need to wait to park anywhere. I took an Uber from the airport after a total traveling time of 15 hours and waited for the Uber to drop me off outside of a building I wasn’t entirely certain was my own with my three suitcases, a backpack and leather jacket.
Now we move back to the downside of a no-parents move-in day. When we were young, my dad used to name himself “Daddy Donkey,” because he would always carry all of our stuff when we got tired of doing it ourselves. He still references it occasionally for nostalgia. I would’ve taken the embarrassment of him saying that in public if it meant he helped carry my stuff.
But no, I was the only person there to carry my luggage. With the sweat pouring down my head and back, the hot sun whipping my bare shoulders, my legs crying for a downhill break, I soldiered on. I eventually found a way to roll all of the suitcases at the same time, but it definitely left me with a dozen leg bruises.
When I finally dragged my load to my door, I could think of nothing worse than meeting all of my new roommates. Exhausted and sweaty never gives the best impression. So when I keyed in my code and opened my door, I hoped that the place would be empty. Somehow, luck was with me.
I swung the door open and found myself facing no one. Instead, I saw UCLA’s so-called “suite.” As someone who wanted the cheapest possible accommodation, UCLA decided to give me the second most expensive in the form of a “suite.” With a living room, a shared bathroom and two rooms for three people each, the “suite” was not exactly the dorm-style I wanted. But, a living room is always good I suppose?
However, the UCLA gods blessed us with the disabled room for no apparent reason. And it meant bigger everything. I would come to find that our bathroom and living room area was twice that of everyone else’s.
On that hot summer morning, I felt unbelievably grateful. I swung all my bags into the living room in one go and collapsed on the couch.
Lucky for me, that was when one of my suitemates came out. After some awkward but friendly hello’s and her nicely leaving me to deal with the chaos that was my luggage, I dragged my stuff into my room.
I walked into what would be my home for the next year, flipped on the light and observed. It was a very stereotypical dorm room: loft bed and bunkbed, three desks, three closets, three sets of drawers, looking very uniform in the classic dorm brown.
I looked at it all and suddenly it hit me. I moved to Los Angeles. I left my family, everything I knew behind. I was in a strange place with strange people—completely by myself.
I took a few deep breaths to combat the lump in my throat that grew bigger by the second. Breathe, I told myself. This is what you wanted. You wanted to go far away. You’ve moved at least eight times in your whole life—you know how to do this.
Only this time, you’re doing it alone.
So I decided to take the first step: choose my space. I looked at all the beds and chose the loft—a bit separated from the others and next to the window. Bottom bunks are overrated.
First step done. Second step: unpack. I chose the biggest suitcase first, unzipped it and flipped it up. I threw on some music, closed the door, turned on the fan and got to work. About an hour in, I looked at all I did and started to feel like this could become home.
I was just finishing when my first roommate walked in. She looked as excited as I was nervous, and hurriedly introduced me to all of her family. About five of them came, each carrying something for her. We talked only briefly, because her family planned a final dinner before they went back home. A final dinner. The lump in my throat came back.
She bid me goodbye, and they all filed out. I stopped folding my clothes and sat on my desk, breathing in again.
Who cares about dinner? My vegan sister would’ve nagged me about eating meat. My mom would’ve been unable to eat anything because she’s gluten intolerant. My dad would’ve eaten an entire pizza without caring at all the people staring at him. It would’ve been a nightmare. Yeah, a nightmare.
As I finished unpacking, I decided to give my roommate space to unpack her stuff when she came back. As I left the suite, I heard two heated Spanish voices. I passed my suitemate’s room where a girl argued with her mom about where to put stuff on her desk. It made me smile a little. My mom would’ve done that. Another positive for my situation, I suppose. No arguments when you’re by yourself.
I sat alone in the dining hall that night, surrounded by people and their families. Teenagers rolling their eyes, parents glowing with pride. I ate fast and at the end, I walked in the cool night air to campus.
It’s a short walk really. And as I walked, I thought. I learned from experience that the lump in my throat would only go away by crying or thinking. And the former was definitely not going to happen here so soon.
I walked past the buildings of the beautiful campus and finally started to realize what a life-changing step I took. I left home for good. I moved countries. I found myself in an unfamiliar city.
I looked up at the smog-filled L.A. sky and finally felt something that wasn’t sad. I chose to come across the world to UCLA, and I followed through. I felt proud. Proud of myself for how far out of my comfort zone I’d just walked. I felt like nothing stood in my way now.