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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Column: World, here we come

“I want to go on exchange because I dream a lot. I dream of having a big family, changing the world through environmental education and being loved. These are my big dreams. However, I also dream of seeing a Broadway show, enjoying summer all year round (at least for a year), hiking in the Rockies, speaking French everyday or living in a city where my great-grandfather was born.”

I wrote this a year and a half ago in the application for my university’s international exchange program. Barnard College in New York City, University of British Columbia (UBC), McGill University, University of Chicago and, of course, University of California, were included in my top five destinations. Needless to say, I would have been very excited to go to any of those other places had I gotten an offer from, but how come all the school who accepted my application were in North America?

In the words of my brother — I wasn’t brave enough! He’s now considering to go on exchange for his third year. Chicago and UBC seem possible destinations, but he thinks that the other options of Chile and Vietnam would be simply too much. Similarly, I had my eyes set on New Zealand for a long time. But when it came to filling the application, I didn’t have courage to put NZ universities on it — it just seemed too drastic.

North America seemed much closer to home, more familiar, less uncertain. I have friends who studied here, family friends living here, family history that was born here and I’ve had a dream of this place ever since I had first heard about it. All my chosen places seemed exotic enough to justify the internationality of the exchange (Canada!). I was more than OK with going to California.

Leaving my home country Lithuania to study abroad in Edinburgh then leaving Scotland for California, of course, takes guts. I seem so worldly, but Edinburgh was a safe choice; I knew the language and many Lithuanians study in the UK so I was familiar with all the procedures and what to expect before I even got there. Apart from hearing about occasional earthquakes and scary stories, I thought Los Angeles, California was also a safe choice.

Why do other exchange students come to California? Good schools, great climate, surfing, skiing, Hollywood, California Gurls, U2’s The Joshua Tree (maybe just me for the last one). Most people think that they have California all figured out — even without visiting it! In reality, California is even more magical now that I know how much I don’t know about it.

What this year taught me, however, is that the world is our oyster. No more dream places — I see these now as inevitable plans for my future.

When people ask why we chose UC Davis, we laugh and say that we didn’t. Some invisible people decided for us that we will be going to Davis for a year and not Berkeley, San Diego or Santa Barbara. And it turned out to be not bad at all.

Davis was never my dream. (I didn’t even know about Davis until a year and a half ago! Heck, my first reaction to this placement was no no no no!) But now I will always dream about Davis. Everyone should end up going to their Chiles and New Zealands, but they should also go to their undreamed-of Davises. Even if it is as close as the Bay Area or as far as the actual New Zealand, nothing’s gonna stop us now.

Times have changed since my great-grandfather was born in Chicago in 1916. Several years later the family returned to Lithuania then communists came and everything changed. All his life my great-grandfather wanted to go back to the United States, but he was never allowed to. And here I am, his great-granddaughter, living under the amazing California sun and telling his story to the world.

So, I did end up getting my all-year-round summer. But I also got so much more — starting with a stronger faith in dreams.

Even when she’s daydreaming, you can catch KRISTINA SIMONAITYTE at ksimonaityte@ucdavis.edu.

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