This time last year, I frantically prepared for the Taiwanese American Student Association’s 12th Annual Night Market. Modelled after the night markets held in Taiwan, TASA’s Night Market is steeped in tradition, and I was a proud bearer of that tradition when I was still a member and student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Unlike most transfer students, I did not come from a community college. Instead, I left a four-year university for another. I applied for the renowned English department at UCLA, feeling that I wasn’t learning enough or improving my writing at UCSB. I still loved and enjoyed my life Santa Barbara.
I even completely shut the idea of transferring out of my mind after I sent out my transfer applications. I adopted an “I’ll deal with it later” mentality.
Later came fast, and before I knew it I was standing in my friend’s kitchen, helping cut ten pounds of raw chicken, for a dish to be sold at Night Market.
“UCLA decisions are out,” I told him nonchalantly.
“What?” he screamed. “Check, check right now!”
“Why? I’m cutting raw chicken, kinda busy right now!” I protested. I was stalling seeing the results. In all honestly, the result didn’t matter—either acceptance or rejection would fill me with dread.
He saw through me. “I don’t care! Wash your hands and check right now!”
We stood together in the kitchen, raw chicken all around us on the counters. It suddenly felt quite warm and my heart beat nervously as I checked the results on my phone. I scrolled impatiently through the pages while my friend bit his thumbnail. The first word said it all, “Congratulations!” We couldn’t believe it.
“Oh my God,” I mustered.
“Oh my God,” he echoed. We probably said five “Oh my Gods” between us, maybe a few F-bombs, and screamed in each other’s faces.
Excitement and anxiety clashed inside me. These emotions carried me through Night Market to well into cleanup. Members started taking the lights down and the chatter quieted to murmurs. It dawned on me that this was the last Night Market that I would ever truly be a part of. Watching all my Asian American friends, I marveled at how I had found my home away from home. All these people were precious to me; how could I possibly leave them behind?
I wondered to myself, “Can I not go?” No. My parents, even my TASA friends, would never let me pass up this opportunity. The only possible move was to go forward, accepting the offer from UCLA.
“Won’t you be lonely?” my dad had asked me once during the summer. I shrugged it off. I had underestimated how difficult the change would be. At UCLA, students often bombarded me to join their clubs, trying desperately to draw me into a new community. If I were a wide-eyed freshman, I might have joined, but I was a transfer. I stayed doggedly loyal to my TASA friends, perhaps to my detriment. I had already found my community; it just wasn’t at UCLA.
My frame of mind had slowly changed after spending months with my five roommates. Thank God for them, or else I probably wouldn’t have any friends at UCLA. The six of us share a suite and are a rather multicultural bunch.
One is Israeli and has served in the Israeli military. One is studying abroad for a whole year from Ireland. Another year-long study abroad roommate is Indonesian and attends the University of Edinburgh. One is a talented singer from sunny San Diego. The last is half-Mexican and half-white from Santa Barbara, the very home I had just left behind.
We are all so different in ethnicity, personality and experience. Despite this, we get along really well. They were so open, about themselves and to strangers, that I found myself opening up to the idea of making new friends.
I definitely don’t have as many friends at UCLA as I did at UCSB. I am not part of a huge community like TASA, and I do not help run any big events like Night Market. Even so, these five girls have managed to construct a home away from home for me. Thinking of my roommates calls to mind warmth, laughter, smiles and funny stories. I know I will be sad to see some of return to their home countries, for they have enriched my life more than they would ever know.