Last week, I walked into my final 8 a.m. class, which I had consistently been complaining about for the whole semester, and I teared up because “A Sky Full of Stars” played through the speakers. Ugly-weeping to a Coldplay song is not something I do regularly, but mixed with “last class ever” feelings and graduation terror, it seemed like the most appropriate reaction. I didn’t start college being the kind of person to place sentimental value on nearly everything, and I hated the kind of people who were like that. But college made me soft. To all my friends who know me now: I used to think I was really tough (don’t look so shocked). But then, I met all of you.
As with stereotypical Asian families, mine wasn’t quick on sharing feelings. Saying “I love you” wasn’t at the tip of our tongue like it was for most of my childhood friends when they spoke on the phone or left their house in the morning to go to school. I was in the fourth grade when I first asked my mom why she never told me she loved me. She told me that she had been raised to show love through small actions rather than sweeping words.
Growing up, I felt more of my parents’ unending love than I heard it. My family is made up of the strongest people I’ve ever met, but their strength shows more in their composure during difficult situations than it does through their emotional vulnerability. Through deaths, diseases and miscarriages, every warm embrace my family members shared with one another was accented with the love we needed to build ourselves back up. I watched as my parents hardened themselves, and I did the same, because quiet support felt a lot easier than talking about our feelings.
My friends in college are the exact opposite. I found nine people who schedule dinners with one another for heart-to-hearts even though we all live together and see one another daily. It scared me a lot freshman year to retroactively look back at everything my parents and I didn’t share aloud and consciously decide to open these previously hidden wounds to nine people at once. But it also felt great being able to unload burdens onto willing ears. Every year after the first felt like a series of choices: I shared what I wanted and needed to share, and I hid what I wanted to keep for myself. It was a compromise I made with my former, harder self because I was too scared to let down all of my barriers in case I got hurt along the way. I got to choose when I wanted to be soft and when I wanted to be tough.
Freshman year changed my family, too. Since we all immigrated to the United States, I’ve been there every step of the way to face challenges alongside my parents, even though I am no longer right next to them. It wasn’t enough for them to show their love implicitly when I wasn’t physically around to feel it anymore. So every time my parents visited in these four years, my dad kissed me, my mom hugged me, and my parents both told me “I love you.” Sometimes on the phone, they would say it before hanging up and I could hear them swallowing tears on the other end. It seemed like such a small gesture, but it was one that shed a little more of their tough skin every time they said it.
Senior year, I lost the feeling of being able to pick when I got to be vulnerable. I got close to someone who challenged me and made me want to share everything I was feeling all the time. He became an emotional respite, but he was also someone who made it impossible to have any sort of barrier from my feelings. He taught that I was never going to learn from myself if I didn’t know anything about myself. I hated the fact that I depended on him so much, but in the same way that I hated eating vegetables or getting shots. As much as being vulnerable around him scared me, the feeling of clarity after he helped me pump out every feeling in my body and lay it out to examine taught me how to grow from my experiences.
After four years, being softer should feel normal, but it doesn’t. I want so badly to have an armor that keeps me from feeling hurt or stressed or heartbroken. Now, vulnerability makes me feel weak and unsure of myself, but it also gives me the strength that I’m going to figure myself out soon. In the end of it all, I can thank UC Berkeley for making me soft, and I can thank my two families — the one I was born with and the one I found here — for teaching me how to find strength in my vulnerability. Even though my time on this campus is over, I’m still learning from them. I hope I get the continued privilege of doing so for the rest of my life.
Ikya Kandula was the fall 2016 and spring 2017 managing publisher. She joined The Daily Californian as an account executive in fall 2014 before becoming sales manager in fall 2015. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in economics and business administration.