The toddler transfer

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My Golden Bear Orientation, or GBO, was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.

GBO was a week and a half of being shuttled between “school spirit” events (usually some sort of bear-related chanting), awkward faculty speeches and more awkward student performances about sex — all while being shepherded by orientation leaders who knew what we were supposed to be doing about as much as we did.

My group bonded over the craziness of orientation, and after a particularly long day, some people wanted to go unwind over a couple of beers. I wasn’t super pumped for this idea — not because I wasn’t ready to get drunk, but because getting into bars is a little harder if you’re the only person who’s not 21 yet (unless you go to Pappy’s, apparently).

The look of shock from some of the other group members when I told them I was only 18 was pretty funny — I could tell they were all thinking, “Who let this child in?”

I’m a transfer student, which is why so many people in my group were old enough to get into a bar — or at least old enough to have a fake ID — but I’m younger than a lot of my peers. Some transfers spend two or three years at their community college, in addition to taking gap years after high school.

I, on the other hand, only spent one year right after high school at my community college. I also have a late birthday, which means I spent most of my orientation being a toddler hanging out with the big kids.

Now, I’m not complaining about how tough my life is because I’m young (please put your pitchforks away, old folks). The reason transfers are older on average is because they represent a more diverse range of people, including returning students, parents and low-income students. They have to juggle a lot, and they deserve mad props.

But there have been some side effects to being a baby that I didn’t anticipate. These problems started back at my community college. When I tried to sign up for summer classes, the registration system marked me as a high school student because I was 17 and class sign-ups were a week before my high school graduation.

When fall rolled around, the community college system still had me flagged as a high school student because I wasn’t 18. Despite having a diploma, I had to get a form signed by the principal of a school I no longer went to.

A few weeks of paperwork and counselor visits later, I was able to sign up regularly, but my birthdate almost fucked me out of an entire semester of school.

While, thankfully, I haven’t had any age-based administrative issues at UC Berkeley (just the regular ones — #GoBears), the age gap is still there. I’ve made a lot of transfer friends, but it’s been harder to befriend them than I thought it would be.

I assumed just one year wouldn’t really be much of an issue, but honestly, it’s more about the life-experience difference too.

A lot of folks in my GBO group scoffed at the stuff we had to do, because it was obviously geared towards freshman. They laughed at the “How Not to Get Alcohol Poisoning and Die” presentation because they’d already learned that — unlike me, the person who’d never been to a house party before.

Community college was like high school 2.0 for me — I still lived at home and I still had the same routines. All my GBO mates had jobs or careers or families or military experience; they were actual adults. Meanwhile, I’m over here still trying to figure out how to buy groceries and pay my electric bill.

I tried to blend in with the freshmen because I felt like I had more in common with my fellow toddlers, but it was surprisingly hard to actually meet any when I didn’t live in a dorm or take any lower-division classes. How the hell am I supposed to get the real upperclassman experience by bullying freshmen into swiping me into Crossroads if I can’t find any?

Am I fucking myself over here? Sometimes I feel like I should’ve stayed at my community college for another year. Almost all transfers feel the pressure of only having two years at UC Berkeley (Neil McClintick did a good column on the transfer ceiling last semester — go check it out), but I didn’t have a chance to get settled in at junior college either. The pressure is definitely on to squeeze out the Maximum College Experience, and I don’t want to blink and realize that it’s already over and I missed out on finding a good community.

I didn’t end up going to the bar with the folks from the GBO group, but we still found some common ground. The next day, we all spent lunch complaining about GBO together — and nothing builds friendships like hating the same stuff.

KD Mireles writes the Friday column on the ambiguity of categories. Contact them at [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @kdillonm.