Author: Erica

An Open Letter to My Freshman-Year Roommate

By Erica.

To my roommate, who, as of two weeks ago, technically no longer holds that title,

I remember almost exactly a year ago, just after graduation, when my best friends were swarming you, badgering you with “make sure she eats three meals a day”, “make sure she stays hydrated”, “make sure she doesn’t do anything too stupid” comments. I laughed at the time—I was too used to Allison and Veronica’s motherly worrying—but little did I know that in the next twelve months, you’d go above that and beyond.

Deciding to room with you seemed like such a minute decision in the flurry of other important life changes last May. I was scared of moving away from home to a school where a measly 8% of students were out-of-state, and clinging on to the single person I knew at this fifty-thousand-student university seemed like the obvious move. Granted, even though we went to the same school we were still acquaintances at best, but even the littlest things, like having the same Fiction Writing teacher senior year, made feeling at home in Austin a little bit easier.

Thank you for cultivating the immense amount of patience it took to live with me, from dealing with my nonstop morning alarms to my obnoxious household questions (from “do I need to refrigerate this avocado?” to “how do I boil water?”). You are undoubtedly the sole reason I never got food poisoning and could make tea whenever I felt under the weather.

Thank you for your unending selflessness—when everything in my life seemed to be crashing down on me and all I could do was sit on the floor and cry, you stopped studying to come back to our dorm and take me to get cream puffs, where you sat and listened to the same broken spiel of mine for the seventeenth time in the past week. When life knocked me down and I didn’t want to get up, you sat next to me, making sure I ate a reasonable amount, slept for a healthy number of hours, and told me everything was going to be alright—until I brushed myself off and stood up again.

Thank you for pushing your way into my friend groups, befriending my college best friends, getting to know my high school friends, and even entertaining my cousin when she came to visit. Thank you for always checking up on me, for making sure someone walked me home from parties, and for getting coffee for me when I needed it most.

Thank you for always being more than willing to help my friends and I with chemistry homework—suppressing the urge to strangle us when we didn’t understand orbital hybridization or dative bonding until the third time you explained it. And even though you weren’t even in physics, you still tried to help me with my problem sets and affirmed my complaints and frustrated yelling just to make me feel like I wasn’t the only one struggling.

Even when I reneged on our “we should go to the gym together on a regular basis” pact by the third week of college, you continued to go while I took naps instead. Even when I’d give up on being productive by 10pm, you’d stay up studying till far past midnight, and still wake up earlier than me the next day. I don’t know how you did it all, but you are and were the functioning young adult that I strive to one day become. Deciding to room with you may have seemed like a minute decision at the time, but it turned out to be one of the biggest things that shaped the beginning of my college career.

I’m going to miss that hour between turning off the lights and falling asleep, when we’d talk about everything and everyone that ever crossed our minds. I’m going to miss the consistent level of messiness we both had, and the always slightly-cluttered but homey dorm we came home to every night. It was a good nine months of you being my roommate, mom friend, and biggest support, and I would probably be a flaming pile of ashes without you.

My freshman year regrets are far and few, but the one that is always on the forefront of my mind is the fact that that I’m not living with you next year. And while our apartments will only be seven blocks apart, that’s seven blocks farther than we are now.

I’m now in a new dorm for the summer, waiting for a roommate to move in that isn’t you—referring to my room as ‘my room’ and not ‘our room’ is something I’m going to have to learn to get used to. But as we close out our first year of college, know that I am forever thankful for everything you’ve done for me since the day we checked in.

Your (former) roommate,
Erica

From Computer Screen to Lecture Hall

Erica.

6:20 alarm. Two flights of stairs. Desk. Laptop. Log into online classroom.

For more than seven years, this was my Monday to Thursday routine. For more than seven years, my class was a webpage, the teacher was a webcam, and my classmates were microphones. It was a school, yes, in the modern sense of the term, but it was no physically-established school with halls swarming with students. There was community, in the technological sense of the term, but it was some chaotic dichotomy of distant yet personal relationships that spanned counties and countries.

Every day, for four days a week, I’d sit at my Ikea-bought desk, gazing into a computer screen from 6:30am to 12:30pm, typing into a chat box and talking through a mic. When my six-hour stint was over, I’d get up, eat, sometimes shower, sometimes nap, only return to my laptop again, working on whatever essay or Latin homework I had that day.

Those seven years flew and dragged along, some years going better than others. But eventually I completed all my classical language requirements, eventually I finished six years and twelve classes of great texts, and eventually I wrote the final sentence of my 40-page senior thesis. And less than three months after donning a cap and gown, I tumbled into the world of four-hundred-people chemistry lectures in a school 200 times larger than the one I left.

There are the obvious differences. Having to change into presentable clothing, pack a backpack, and walk to class is a routine I had never adapted before. Class material was no longer presented on a PowerPoint on a screen a foot from my face, and instead during every Differential Equations class I sit, in the very back row (due to my constant just-in-the-nick-of-time arrivals), on the edge of my seat, blinking furiously, begging my brain to decipher what Greek letters my professor is scribbling down before he erases it and starts a new proof.

But while getting ready in the morning takes longer and reading whiteboards has become harder, the general thrill of school has increased. While high school was engaging in its own right and while discussing Greek epics and studying organic chemistry over Skype calls was undoubtedly unique, the end of high school brought along triteness and the longing for something new. The move to UT certainly provided the shift in atmosphere and sense of vibrancy that my life needed.

There are the friendly faces, always willing to study together, to argue over the humanistic architectural factors of the student union, and to share in frustration about not knowing how to calculate the eigenvectors of matrices with repeated roots. There are the many study spaces, from the main library, to the gym, to the picnic benches, to the coffee shops along the river—no longer am I confined to my desk and dining table and local Starbucks. There are the classes that only spur on my excitement to become a civil engineer—while I appreciated the seven years of Latin I took growing up, my excitement about my upcoming classes in concrete materials, reinforced concrete design, and advanced concrete design is incomparably greater.

Admittedly, I don’t know how to be anything but a student. While the setting of my academic career has changed from being at home to the internet to now a public university, the themes are still the same. Classes, homework, and tests have ruled my priorities since as long as I can remember, and school has always been one of the few loves in my life. But learning feels more personal, more tangible, more exciting, and more relevant to my aspirations than high school was. Maybe this academic high is only temporary, and maybe I can only tell myself so much that being an engineering major will not demolish my morale and happiness until it turns into reality, but until then, here’s to the next 3 (4? 5? 6? 7?) years of school.

Where The Heart Is

by Erica.

The skyscrapers of downtown LA twinkled on the left, Universal Studios on the right, and the houses below us flickered like fireflies as the people inside them headed to sleep. As my friend and I leaned against the guardrail, our eyes flitting around the valley below, we talked about leaving the city we grew up in, the food that we’d miss, the people that we’d remember, and every other memory that filled the ten years that we’d been friends. As the people in the valley below were only ending their days, here we were, on the side of the mountain, preparing to end a period of our lives that we held dear.

It was 1am on Wednesday, August 17th, and my flight to Texas was in 5 hours.

My summer before college went, in many ways, exactly how I’d imagined (and better). I went on a spur-of-the-moment road trip with one of my closest friends, drove around southern California with my cousin, ate at my favorite SoCal restaurants, all-in-all taking a plethora of good pictures and making a bevy of great memories with the people whom I loved the most.

Leaving California seemed, at the time, impossible. Leaving California was a decision that I questioned during every goodbye last summer, during every tight hug and drive away from the people and places and communities that I treasured the most. I loved the beaches, the traffic, the weather, the palm trees, and every place I had set foot in in the past seventeen years. I loved home.

The first several weeks in Austin were undoubtedly rough. The classes were interesting and the friends were nice, but the comfort of home seemed so absent in the fifty-thousand-student campus I now lived in. But just as VPSA was about finding ways to build friendships that transcended state lines, soon I realized college was about finding ways to ensure that home lives on from a thousand miles away.

It’s a process. It takes small moments, like my middle-school best friend—perhaps one of the people I associate ‘growing up’ with the most—coming to visit me at my new school, where I introduced her to my new friends, city, and life. As she sat and chatted with my college friends as if she too was a part of my new life, I began to understand that the geographical location did not matter as much as the people and memories that were attached to it. As the blend of the old and new continued, I began to find pieces of my old friends in my new friends—in the way they laughed, the things they found excitement in, and their shared love of endlessly roasting me.

But it’s still a process. It takes FaceTimes, Skype calls, texts, Snapchats, and every other form of interaction possible to bridge the distance that college has so brashly established. Some days I feel more at home in Austin than others, some days I wish I was back in Los Angeles more than others. Choosing to stay the summer in Texas instead of at home is a decision I pray I won’t be saddened by too much.

Making the trip back to LA will only continue to become harder. After this summer is sophomore year, then studying abroad, then who knows what kinds of internships, jobs, and opportunities will come my way. Perhaps they will land me back in California, perhaps they will keep me in Texas, or perhaps they will bring me to places I couldn’t even imagine. And so, life chugs on, ever moving forwards and upwards, occasionally making space to fly home for a moment, only bringing me back to Austin again.

 

During my last weekend at home this past summer, on the night of my going-away party, the overwhelming number of well-wishes and sentimental gifts drove me to text Allison and beg her to reassure me that everything was going to be okay.

“It seems like you’re leaving behind a lot,” she told me, “but that’s also because you can’t even imagine the things you’re going to experience in Austin. You literally can’t think of all the opportunities, the internships that will ignite passion in you, the friends that will stick by your side for the rest of your life, and the memories that will undoubtedly be some of your greatest.”

Freshman year is coming to a close, and I am over a thousand miles from where I was a year ago, but somehow, I feel at home.

Road Trips, Airbnbs, and Dallas, Texas

Erica.
My friends and I started talking about spring break at the end of last semester, but compromising between four people only led to two months of disagreement. Flying was too expensive, the beach was too cliché, camping sounded too much like a Dante’s Inferno experience, and all in all, neither one of us had the same idea of what we wanted to do for a week in March. After finally settling on a camping trip and then me quickly realizing I would want nothing more than to not go camping, we settled on visiting the second-most exciting city in the state (due to already living in the first): Dallas.

We decided to leave campus promptly at 9am on the first day of break. By 8:45, two of the four of us were packed and ready in our respective dorm rooms, eagerly awaiting a “I’m outside” text from our friend with the car. But the minutes passed without evidence of life from the other two, so just before 9 we called and texted, only to be met with one “sorry, I just woke up,” and one “sorry, I haven’t left my house yet, but I’ll be there in an hour”. Eventually, only an hour and a half off schedule, we hit the road, the four of us eighteen and nineteen year olds and no parental supervision–truly a dream come true.

The drive there seemed eerily reminiscent of long drives with my siblings on family vacations: there was the same, if not amplified, level of bickering and name-calling, only the roasts were more well-crafted and the crying was less common. Without the safety net of the “I’m telling Mom” card, mutual dragging ensued, with everyone and the entirety of our seven-month-long friendships being fair game. Without parents to keep us on reasonable eating habits, we were excited to eat anything and everything we were craving, but by day 2 I was ready to break down into tears if someone told me I had to eat another donut. Maybe my sugar tolerance had dropped to a reasonable level or maybe donuts and kolaches weren’t actually good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the reality of getting to eat whatever we wanted seemed less fun than the prospect of it.

Due to none of us being old enough to get a hotel room, we ended up at a charming apartment via Airbnb in the middle of downtown. There was something about the fifteen-foot ceilings and free range of the apartment that amped up the “look at us, we’re kind of adults” feel and made the problems stemming from lack of comfortable sleeping arrangements, poor window insulation, and lack of hairdryer seem minuscule. Apartments were more exciting than dorm rooms, and the full-size fridge and multiple couches made it feel like a luxury vacation.

At other times, it felt like a family vacation with four overgrown kids with drivers’ licenses and high school diplomas. The childlike enthusiasm was still rampant, but geared towards historical events and live music instead of carousels and ice cream parlors. One friend was giddy with excitement about spending hours at the museum on Kennedy’s assassination, buying a JFK shirt from the gift shop, immediately putting it on after we left the museum, and continuing to wear it to bed for the rest of the trip. Another friend beamed ear to ear about finding a restaurant with live jazz, sitting in fascination for hours and and basking in the music as the rest of us exchanged dying glances. It became routine to stop and stare in awe at well-designed buildings and remark on impressively-designed highway systems–cities were like zoos for the civil engineering majors in the group, the jungle-animal enclosure being replaced by a concrete jungle. Every time we’d come across some poorly engineered aspect of the city, someone would remark about how someday, somehow, they’d build something better.

So for several days we went around Dallas, visiting a bevy of museums, eating at the most Texas of places, listening to live music, sitting in pretty parks, and taking enough pictures to stockpile for Instagram posts and Facebook profile pictures. And every night, drained and finished with the excitement of the day, we’d get back to the apartment, crash on the couch, and watch movies and TV shows until 1am. And that was spring break.

Trips like this always seemed like a “when I grow up” kind of thing. “When I have money.” When I’m older.” “When I can do things on my own.” And even though we still can’t check into hotels or have a particularly large amount of money to spend, those ‘when’s are slowly becoming nows, with every school break and lump of money that comes along. Even though this spring break we could only make it several hours away from home, with more time and planning, soon our lives will point to bigger adventures in farther places. Maybe Chicago, maybe Boston, and maybe even overseas. More breaks are yet to come, studying abroad is becoming more of an option, and who knows where it will all lead.

There’s something about new cities, new skylines, and new places to be that makes traveling exciting–and with the addition of new friends, adventure seems limitless. This spring break wasn’t the family vacation I was used to, but nevertheless, it was a memorable sort of vacation with a different sort of family.

101 Miles Till Home

by Erica

676.

Our Snapchat streak is at 676.

This obnoxiously long and overall useless achievement has been, since day 1, one of our frantic flails to hold onto this friendship we hold dear. Calling each other best friends even though we lived on opposite corners of the United States always seemed ambitious–surely there were hundreds of other people within a mile radius of us that could fit the bill instead. But our online high school directed our lives into a head-on collision at just the right instant, sending the both of us spiraling into a friendship neither one of us had prepared for.

Conversations in Organic Chemistry soon transcended the classroom, and eventually we settled into the routine that still holds true today. Since junior year, we’ve spent weeks together exploring New York and sitting in hotels in Pennsylvania and going from beach to beach in California. The amount of stupid conversations we’ve had and arguably risky decisions we’ve made is abounding–the need to condense three months of adventure into a single weekend is forever ingrained in our minds.

But this unexpectedness, this sporadicity, this surprise in every turn lends to a friendship worth bragging about and a bevy of stories worth sharing. When people ask me about my happiest memories, my favorite trips, and my wildest adventures, this friendship in all its glory comes to mind every time. Granted, goodbyes are always agonizing and ‘see you soon’s never seem promising enough; but time goes on, sometimes dragging, sometimes flying, until our countdowns hit zero and we say hello again. It’s an unpleasant progression, but such is the nature of it all.

This whole long-distance friendship manifests itself in the occasional Skype call, the unending stream of texts, and the collaborative blog that would cause less rifts in the relationship if some people (me) actually started writing posts when they (me) said they would. Roasting each other on social media has become the norm–perhaps peppering conversations with joking ‘I hate you’s and other feigned remarks will somehow make it easier to cope with being apart.

We now go to college thirty times closer to each other than we went to high school, and admittedly an hour-and-a-half drive is nothing to scoff at when it used to be forty. But some days, anything farther than walking distance still seems like too much.

Regardless, whether it be three thousand or one hundred miles apart, I’m forever thankful for this friendship and everything it entails. I would have never spent so much time in NYC, or cultivated such an intense passion for zoos, or fully understood the resilience of friendship despite time zones and state lines–and a life void of those things doesn’t seem like much of a life at all.

This was supposed to be some kind of birthday homage, but I, true to character, didn’t finish writing until four days too late. Happy late birthday, Allison, and thanks for everything.

From Faces to Friends

Erica.

The most difficult part about going to Texas was the sheer magnitude of uncertainty that surrounded the next four years of my life. What would my classes be like? Would my grades be okay? Would I go to the gym on a regular basis? And above all, who would my friends be? These were all questions that could never be answered in a single moment, only unraveling as time went on.

I spent many nights lying in bed, trying to conjure up ideas about the kinds of friends and the kinds of times I’d have in college. Attempting to imagine multiple distinct, vivid personalities was hard, but I wanted to know what life would be like. My future days, nights, weekends, friend groups, these were all complicated, jumbled results of the people I was about to meet in a few short months.

It was, thankfully, more exciting than frightening.

This vast undefined expanse has been a theme of college so far—knowing that there are good things that are going to happen that I can’t fathom quite yet, so many fun trips and good laughs, things I’ll learn and things I will be glad to have gone through. Constantly reminding myself that good things lie ahead has been crucial to making leaving home the first and second time easier. Jumping in is a thousand times harder when you don’t know what you’re jumping into.

img_7844In every new class, or club meeting, or lunch table I showed up to, I’d be met with a miscellaneous arrangement of eyes, noses, and mouths in combinations I’d never seen before. I’d wonder which faces would become familiar, which would become friendly, and which I’d never think twice about again. Meeting new people was a constant wondering of “who will they be to me in the future?” The answers to that question were never clear to me then, but as the weeks passed by, I began to have clarity.

The boy hunched over his notes two desks down in my Dancing America class? He’s one of my best friends now. The people in that cramped classroom in the basement of the civil engineering building? They were the nineteen people I credit to my first semester’s success.img_5437

It’s scary, no doubt, knowing that I’ve only known these people since August at most and the depth of our relationships is still developing. It’s only been half a year, and while in some respect it feels like forever, it’s only a small fraction of the time that I’ve known some of the other people in my life.

But my friends here at UT are always evolving, fading, and appearing, all in all coalescing into a support group that I could never handle college without. And while I am forever wondering about this semester, next semester, and the rest of college as a whole, with every new person I meet, I slowly expand the circle of “people I’d consider saying hello to if I ever saw them in passing”—making life on this fifty-thousand-student campus seem a little less daunting.