Coming to UCLA the second time was scarier — but it was worth it – Advice Eating

The author’s father took this photo while he and her mother were helping her move into her apartment. This was her first visit to campus since leaving in spring 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

In 2019, I entered freshman year confident that I have the strength and will to make the next four years at UCLA one of the best times of my life. I was naive but optimistic, armed with aspirations to pursue a career in law and explore the city of LA with my two new roommates.

All of that changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the middle of my first quarter of winter. At 6 a.m. on March 12, 2020, I was sitting outside my dorm waiting for a ride to Los Angeles International Airport. From there I took the first flight out of California and traveled back to my hometown of Honolulu, Hawaii. Watching an abandoned Westwood speed past in the back seat of my Uber, I had no idea I wouldn’t be returning to UCLA for more than a year.

When I returned to Westwood in September 2021 as a rising junior, anxiety had replaced some of my excitement from my freshman year. After spending part of my freshman year and all of my second year teaching online from home, I knew going back to in-person tutoring would be a huge transition. While I was eager to explore Santa Monica with my friends, sing the UCLA chorale, and study at the on-campus Kerckhoff Coffee House, I was also nervous about leaving the safety of my home.

To calm my nervousness a bit, I’d started preparing for apartment life as soon as I’d turned in the final exam of my sophomore year. While I was thrilled with the space and freedom my studio apartment afforded me, I was also overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless responsibilities that my current roommate, a junior at UCLA, and I now faced. Along with furnishing our apartment and building Ikea furniture for the first time, I worried about regular grocery shopping, cooking nutritious meals that could last us all week, creating a apartment cleaning schedule, and more.

In addition, I had mixed feelings when I attended my first face-to-face course in a year and a half. Although I knew that face-to-face classes would force me to remain more focused during lectures, I was also concerned about my health and safety given the Delta option, and my ability to combine my academic performance with demanding extracurricular activities, including writing to reconcile for my school newspaper. For the first time in my bachelor’s career, my assignment consisted entirely of high school classes, and I tried to mentally prepare for more frequent exams, longer reading assignments, and more time-consuming assignments.

Today I realize that while some of my fears were valid, others were unfounded. I’ve been able to feel safe on campus by double-masking in classrooms and taking Covid-19 tests weekly. My schedule was challenging, but still manageable. I was also surprised to find that I often looked forward to my in-person classes because they gave me the opportunity to meet my classmates — something I found difficult because of Zoom. I enjoyed turning around in my seat and chatting with my friends while waiting for our lecture to start, or going to the library with my fellow students after class. Though small things, these moments represented the quintessential college experience for me, after my social interactions had been confined to digital screens and Zoom calls for so long.

Also, I sometimes missed the convenience of on-campus housing and the top-notch dorm food at UCLA (my favorite is the chicken curry), but I also looked forward to returning to my apartment at the end of each day. My roommate and I found ways to make even the most mundane of tasks fun and exciting, as we played Taylor Swift’s latest album while mopping the apartment floors, and watched episodes of “Sweet Magnolias” while we cooked pasta and packed up our tofu stir fry lunch for the week.

That’s not to say the transition back to campus life was easy. After living with my parents for more than a year, I missed our movie nights, Sunday runs in the park, and family dinners. As early as October, I began counting down the days until I could fly home for Thanksgiving, sometimes fighting back tears as I finished classes and did my assignments. Eventually, however, I learned to fill my days with Trader Joe’s shopping trips with my roommate, meal trips to the nearby Sawtelle neighborhood, and daily phone calls with my parents. The night before I returned home for winter break, I gave my roommate Kelly a hug and sincere thanks for sharing the best quarter I could have asked for.

Although it took me 10 weeks, I finally learned that despite all the challenges, personal learning is best for me.

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Megan Tagami studies Political Science and Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles, and is an intern with EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.

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