Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

I never realized how much I would miss home-cooked meals and my mother’s good-intentioned nagging during my first quarter in Santa Cruz. After graduating from high school, I found myself devoting less time to family as I longed for the freedom that college would bring. Constantly rushing off to spend the majority of my summer roaming with friends before I left, I never thought that I’d reminisce about the days spent with Mom and Dad.

Being away at school without my family members giving unconditional love and support was initially shocking.

“Wow,” I thought to myself. “I really am on my own.”

I began to realize how much I truly appreciated a warm embrace, an encouraging smile or some wise words of advice from the family.

At UCSC, I can’t walk five feet down the hall to my sister’s bedroom door. Even though her voice was just a phone call away, during my first year at school I sometimes felt like we lived a million miles apart.

Ever since I returned home, I’ve done my best to cherish every moment I have with my family.

On my own in the dorms, I began to understand the value of time spent with loved ones.

I am naturally, irreversibly distancing myself from my home as I grow and progress through college. I know that the time I spend at home now is precious and limited.

Returning home, after a year away, I worried about how the distance and time away would impact my relationships with my closest friends back at home. Would we change and drift apart?

But the distance has actually strengthened our bond. It’s as though we picked up right where we left off. We’ve each grown and matured, and become busier with greater responsibilities, yet I feel that now we laugh together harder than we ever have before.

Back in the L.A. area, it’s also nice to get a taste of the big city again. I enjoy the hustle and bustle and the stress of the hectic freeways and bustling intersections. It’s energizing watching the constant flow of hundreds of people coming and going.

Yet, having lived in Santa Cruz for nine months, I learned to appreciate the humble, laidback vibe of a small town. Simple and down-to-earth, Santa Cruz is somewhere I can slow down and take a deep breath. Life is slower-paced here and the meadows and ocean views on campus allow me to experience a sense of peace and serenity I had never known before.

It’s a nice change. I enjoy taking the time out of my day in Santa Cruz to admire the flowers on the way to class and breathe in fresh air, instead of L.A. smog.

UCSC has also changed the way I see the world. My high school years of learning lacked lessons that I could relate to everyday life. I see how the majority of my time was spent preparing for standardized and Advanced Placement tests. Having attended Santa Cruz for a year, I feel that my “real” education has finally begun.

My social science professors have exposed me to a new world of information, opening my eyes to the injustices of racism, class inequalities and lack of opportunity. They have challenged me to question things that I might have never thought about before.

In my suburban neighborhood, these problems were out of sight, out of mind, never really confronted or acknowledged. I live in a secluded bubble, far away from uncomfortable issues.

Rarely ever before college did I have discussions about the rights of immigrants or the challenges people with mental illnesses face.

The bubble that once enveloped my mind has finally popped.

I am exposing myself to a whole new way of thinking and level of awareness. After being at Santa Cruz for a year, I experienced a newfound sense of empowerment and motivation.

I can feel myself becoming increasingly driven to make a change in the world and to fight for social justice with the support of my powerful peers and wise professors. I have become even more open-minded and liberal while learning about myself in relation to the world.

While being away, I’ve learned to truly appreciate some of the people that I love most in life and I am grateful that Santa Cruz has changed my way of thinking.

I’m looking forward to returning in the fall to the positive environment of this laidback college town and the people in it that will help me further develop into a well-rounded and conscious person.