ut austin

Coming Home.

By Allison, your local frequent flyer.

So, back to Texas again.

I am beginning to measure my life in airports and delayed flights and taxiing on a tarmac. There is energy in the crowds of people passing through an airport, all traveling somewhere new or returning somewhere familiar, moving with purpose yet dragging with a familiar weariness. I have flown a lot in the past year, between New York and Texas; I have learned the inside of the Dallas-Forth Worth airport, I know where to find the Starbucks with the shortest line in Newark.

The greatest moments of reflection in my life seem to find me precisely when an airplane picks up speed and its wheels leave the runway, pulling me away from a city that I love. At that very movement, in waves of excitement and fear, I realize how much I am always leaving behind, how much I am always coming home to. Because Texas has become home now, in a way. It houses eighteen year old me, and my nineteen year old self, containing all of the memories that I have formed in this past year, cradling my growth and maturity. It doesn’t know my childhood, it doesn’t store the endless memories that Staten Island always will. It is not New York, it is not the fullness of eighteen years of identity, but still, my life has taken root here and I have given away parts of me that New York can never claim as its own.

So, I fly between New York and Texas, Texas and New York, traveling ceaselessly and dividing my existence between such different places. Weeks and months pass but I find myself seated on another plane, spanning the two thousand miles in a few hours, and, yet no matter what direction I find myself traveling, I am always coming home, I am always leaving home.

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.

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.

From a Class of 63 to a Class of 8,000

by Erica

It’s been exactly a month. It’s been exactly a month since my mom and sisters said goodbye to me and disappeared out my dorm room. It’s been exactly a month since I sat in this chair for the first time, listening to the faint laughter of dozens of strangers trickling in through the cracks in my door.

These past four-and-something weeks have both flown by and dragged along, leaving me mystified that so much time has already gone by but also slightly discouraged that only so little has already passed. The 450-people chemistry lectures, the 100,000-people football games, the masses of people swarming the sidewalks to get to their classes, this is a far cry from what I was used to as a homeschooled kid.

I’m still in a state of wonder. I still haven’t entirely digested the fact that I’m in college and this is not a summer camp, that I’m here for four years and not four weeks, and that this is where I live now. Only ten percent of the students at UT are from out of state, and whenever I refuse to say “y’all” or in some other way indignantly remind people that my home is in California, my new friends remind me that this is my home now.

And I guess they’re kind of right.

Texas, with its red-roofed academic buildings and disgusting weather, with its beating sun that has blessed me with a cute shorts and sock tan and the need to slather my body with sunscreen every morning, is where I now live.

The other day I passed the spot beneath the giant shadow of the stadium, where I stood back in March and had my very first “wow, I could actually see myself going to this school” moment. This time, six months later, I was decked out in burnt orange, going off to my very first football game as a Texas Longhorn.

My roommate currently plays the role of the "disappointed mother figure" in my life

My roommate currently plays the role of the “disappointed mother figure” in my life

The process is slow. Every Snapchat from my sisters and text from my mother and email from my dad reminds me of two months ago, when I was in California and not Texas, in my bedroom and not my dorm room. But while I find joy in these little pieces of home, in the California avocado that my friend mailed me and the Snapchat stories from back in SoCal, I begin to realize the empowering community and the myriad of opportunities waiting for me outside my dorm room.

This is what I had been aching for all throughout senior year and all throughout high school: the clubs, the student orgs, the food and the freedom. I graduated high school solely for the Chick-Fil-A that is now only a couple hundred steps away. I didn’t have Chick-Fil-A right outside my door in California.

And while I still have a couple months to go until I go back home for Thanksgiving, it’s comforting to know that a little piece of my old life, of high school, and of home rests at Baylor with Allison, just a bus ride away.

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Leaving California (not the song by Maroon 5)

Erica, who somehow surpassed Allison in being the worst at posting on this blog on time.

I’ve never moved before.

Granted, our house has gone through two remodels and I’ve switched rooms once, but those were always minor fluctuations in my ever constant living situation. For the past nearly eighteen years, I’ve stayed put in this same house, on the same street, in front of the same tree, surrounded by the same neighbors.

My life has been embedded in every piece of this house and of this city. My childhood was filled with biking up and down the mildly-sloped streets, walking to 7-Eleven, and playing badminton in our backyard. The Starbucks down the street is my Starbucks and the church up the block is my church, both at which I have fond, fond memories.

Everything has just always been here.

As a homeschooled kid with hardly any extracurricular activities, I never left this bubble. I lived, breathed, ate, and slept in my room, working on math lessons at my sturdy Ikea desk and occasionally going outside to play. Sometimes, when I was feeling adventurous, I even biked to Starbucks. But this one-mile-radius bubble locked me in tight.

Then time moved on, I grew up, and licenses and jobs and karate happened. My room was transformed from being lived in to only being slept in, and my shoes got a lot more use. My time at home has decreased particularly drastically as of late, bookended by time on sixteen different flights and in eight different states and on who-knows-how-many highways. I’ve spent over three different weeks in three different states with Allison in the past four months, road tripped with a friend, and spent a week with other friends, all in all spending my last moments before college flying, walking, driving, and scootering my way across the city, state, and country.

But no matter how many different hotels, dorm rooms, and houses I’ve woken up in, despite the number of shower handles that I’ve struggled to decipher (home is where you can shower without accidentally immersing yourself in depths of the Arctic or the flames of the eternally damned), and no matter how many friends’ houses I’ve crashed at, I always end up at home.

I always end up at home, where gum wrappers and loose change are strewn against my bookshelf and where I definitely haven’t reached the recommended quota of “times you should wash your bedding per month”. At home, where I keep my gym bag next to my bed, as an attempt to convince myself that I am actually in shape. And at home, where I am now attempting to confine my life’s collection of treasures in cardboard prisons.

I have the same random assortment of pictures and posters and postcards and polaroids tacked to the wall beside my bed that I’ve had since sophomore year—it’s the same this-was-intended-to-be-artsy-but-just-looks-messy aesthetic that I so effortlessly flaunt. I have college brochures from the universities I had my heart set on attending. I didn’t go to any of them. I have photo booth pictures of friends from 2010. I haven’t talked to them since. I have the very first letter Allison sent me. I’ve received wilder things from her since then.

But taking any of these things down feels like a betrayal to my entire livelihood; packing my fondest memories in a box that I will most likely not find until my early thirties feels like hiding away every last remnant of the things that once made me the happiest. Those colleges. Those friends. Allison.

My roommate and I are trying to decide on how to decorate our room, and none of my eclectic memorabilia will ever make the cut. I know for the sake of our dorm aesthetic I can’t bring any of these wall hangings with me, but there’s something about that molecular snowman that I drew for my organic chemistry class’ Christmas party two years ago that makes me want to defy all interior design standards.

But I’m moving out. I’m becoming an adult. It’s time for new beginnings and new room decorations. It’s time for making more memories and finding more happy things.

In exactly three weeks I will be in a new city that isn’t a stone’s throw away from Universal Studios and Disneyland and Hollywood and the beach. I will be in a new home where I have to wear flip flops when I shower and deal with living with human beings that aren’t related to me by blood. My new home will not be anywhere close to a spacious house in the heart of southern California but instead in an 80-year-old dormitory in Texas with no sinks in the individual rooms. Will I feel at home? Will I like it there? What will our room look like? How will life be? There are thirty-four million questions that race through my head at every given moment about everything happening. I can’t help but wonder what our lives will all look like in just a few short months, but only time will tell.

Until then: less than three weeks until I’m Texas-bound.

#UT2020