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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Eighteen years old, eighteen weeks in

After nearly two quarters at UC Davis, first-years reflect on their expectations for college and adulthood

First-year art history major Lena Rohde slowly settles into the passenger seat. She rolls her head back and lets it fall on the head rest. Closing her eyes, she breathes in deeply, then lets go with a sigh as the car leaves the Tercero parking lot. The weekend has barely begun, but her mother has already arrived to drive her back to Rocklin, her hometown.

At this exact moment, first-year biological sciences major Meghan Mahalawat is only two miles away, at the corner of H and 2nd Street, waiting for the Amtrak train to pull up and whisk her away to San Jose. Her home.

As winter quarter comes to a close, most first-year students would have spent nearly eighteen weeks at UC Davis. In that time, Mahalawat has gone home several times, and Rohde has not spent a single weekend in the residence halls.

“I have not made a lot of friends here or found ‘my’ thing that I want to do. There is no real reason for me to stay,” Rohde said. “With my house being so close, I would rather just go home. Be able to do simple things like shower without my shoes on. And now that going home has almost become a habit, it’s what gets me through the week.”

Rohde anticipated her transition to college to be far easier than it is now. She had picked a college only forty minutes away from home and was already fairly independent. She had held a job, driven herself to high school every morning and often cooked meals for her family. Dozens of people had told her that she would easily make friends in her dorms and find a number of extracurriculars to suit her interests.

Instead, she realizes that she lives in what feels like the quietest floor of her dorm. Despite the diverse range of activities available to her, Rohde struggled to find something she really enjoyed. She grew lonely and homesick.

Homesickness is an experience that many college freshmen have grown to anticipate. Mahalawat recalls a family member’s experiences with homesickness.

“I expected to be a little homesick when I first came to Davis,” Mahalawat said. “When my cousin went to college, I remember that she often called my mom and cried about how much she missed home.”

First-year molecular biology Joshua Omoletski found that he missed home more in his second quarter of college than he did at first.

“Before fall quarter, I had four months of summer vacation, so basically I couldn’t wait to get to college,” Omoletski said. “Then I had only two weeks of winter break to see my family, and then I had to come back for nearly three more months. I almost feel like [missing them] is going to get worse during spring quarter.”

Even Rohde knew homesickness would be an issue, but she had never prepared for its overwhelming pervasiveness.

“I feel like all my teachers talked about at my high school was how hard college classes would be,” Rohde said. “They would tell me that no professor here would hold my hand and that I would have to study all by myself. But that is not hardest part at all. Really the hardest part is having to live life on our own when in the past eighteen years, you have been in the same situation with your family, with at least one person there to take care of you, talk to you and help you figure stuff out.”

Rohde believes it is the little things that have become, quite ironically, so difficult to adjust to. Buying toothpaste by herself when it runs out because her mother has not kept a spare tube in a cupboard. Or reminding herself to eat even when the smell of home-cooked food does not waft up to her room.

“They are just logistical, simple tasks,” Rohde said. “But suddenly you are doing them in a completely different environment. You are having to rearrange and rethink your life all on your own. No one really tells you about that.”

Indeed, glossy college brochures come with photographs of students sitting with a study group on the grass, walking through the quad with their arms hooked in each other’s or smiling with a professor as they flip through textbooks. They can paint only a small picture of what college life may be like — but that is not to say the experiences they portray are not real. First-year biomedical engineering major Tiffany Huynh has found her college social life to have exceeded her expectations.

“My social life has expanded almost exponentially,” Huynh said. “In high school there was a lot more work for me to do. I couldn’t plan my own schedule so I didn’t have that time in between just to be out on the grass, play frisbee or just hang out with my friends. I’m learning to make time for the friends and things I care about.”

Omoletski agrees that his circle has friends has grown more than he had imagined it would. As a result of living in such close proximity to his peers, he finds himself in the same spaces as his classmates or floormates, and is always able to start a conversation.

“It surprised me how willing people are to be social here,” Omoletski said.

Still, some first-year students continue to feel that their transition into college and adulthood has required more independence than any other time in their lives, both generally and throughout the school day.

“In high school, you’re always surrounded by the people and things you know even if you’re eating lunch or walking to class,” Mahalawat said. “And now you are by yourself more often, and it is likely that you never expected it would be the case.”

Rohde mentions how odd it is for her to begin to live her life alone, and away from what she has known all her life. She cannot to walk into the kitchen and see her mother or hear her sister sing along to the radio. For her, this will be strange for a long time.

“New people, new food, new places and a whole new environment are huge life changes for anyone, even if someone was middle-aged,” Rohde said. “We are only eighteen.”

Graphic by Jennifer Wu.

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