Coming to UCLA the second time was scarier, but it was worth it

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

In 2019, I entered the freshman year with the belief that I had the strength and will to make the next four years at the University of California, Los Angeles, some of the best times of my life. I was naive but optimistic, armed with the goal of pursuing a career in law and exploring the city of LA with my two new roommates.

This all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit halfway through my first winter quarters. On March 12, 2020, I was sitting outside my dorm room at 6am, waiting for a ride to the Los Angeles International Airport. From there, I took the first flight out of California and traveled back to my home in Honolulu, Hawaii. As I watched 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 as a rising junior in September 2021, I had replaced some of my excitement from my freshman year with worry. After taking online classes for part of the first year and the entire second year of my home, I knew that returning to face-to-face instruction would be a big transition. As I was eager to explore Santa Monica with my friends, sing at the UCLA Chorale, and study at the Kerckhoff Coffee House on campus, I was also nervous about leaving the comfort of home.

In an effort to curb some of my nerves, I had started preparing for apartment life as soon as I submitted the final final of my sophomore year. While I was excited about the space and freedom my studio apartment afforded me, I was also overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless array of responsibilities that my current roommate, a junior at UCLA, and I now faced. In addition to furnishing our apartment and building Ikea furniture for the first time, I was concerned about running errands regularly, cooking nutritious meals for us to enjoy throughout the week, creating an apartment cleaning schedule and Lake.

Plus, I had mixed feelings about taking my first personal class in a year and a half. While I knew that in-person classes would force me to stay more focused during lectures, I also had concerns about my health and safety in the face of the delta variant, as well as my ability to balance my academics with demanding extracurricular activities, including writing for my school newspaper. For the first time in my undergraduate career, my coursework consisted only of higher grades, and I tried to mentally prepare for more frequent exams, longer reading assignments, and more time-consuming papers.

I now realize that while some of my fears were legitimate, others were unfounded. I felt safe on campus by double-masking in lecture halls and taking Covid-19 tests weekly. My class schedule, while challenging, was still manageable. I was also surprised to find that I often looked forward to my in-person class because of the opportunities it offered to meet my classmates – something I struggled to do through Zoom. I loved being able to sit in my chair and chat with my friends while I waited for our talk to begin, or walk to the library with my peers after class. Although small things, for me these moments represented the quintessential college experience after my social interactions were limited to digital screens and Zoom calls for so long.

Plus, while I sometimes missed the convenience of on-campus housing and UCLA’s top-rated dorm food (my favorite is the chicken curry), I also found myself looking forward to returning to my apartment at the end of each day. . My roommate and I found ways to make even the most mundane tasks fun and exciting, blasting Taylor Swift’s latest album while mopping the apartment floors and watching episodes of “Sweet Magnolias” while cooking pasta and our packing tofu stir-fry lunches for the week.

That’s not to say the transition to campus life was easy. After living with my parents for over a year, I found myself missing our movie nights, Sunday runs in the park, and family dinners. As early as October, I started counting down the days until I could fly back home for Thanksgiving, sometimes struggling to hold back the tears as I finished classes and wrote my term papers. But eventually I learned to fill my days with Trader Joe’s errands with my roommate, outings to eat in the nearby Sawtelle neighborhood, and daily phone calls with my parents. The night before I left to return home for winter break, I hugged my roommate, Kelly, tightly and sincerely thanked her for sharing the best quarter I could have wished for.

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

Megan Tagami is a junior studying political science and public affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an intern with EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.

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