Learning to leave

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“Ticket for 1 for the 2:30 showing of Zero Dark Thirty, please.”

The theatre employee peered past my short frame to see if I was with anyone else. I looked back at him, waiting impatiently for him to complete my transaction. As I waited, I thought back to the previous afternoon’s events.

I was all bundled up and headed to the movies with my roommates. As I stepped off the bus at Georgetown, I realized my pocket was light and my phone was no longer in it. I immediately sprinted after the bus, waving my arms, trying frantically to catch its attention.

I made it to the end of the long, cobbled street, panting, but the bus had turned left and driven down a bridge. I caught a bus on the other side and the driver helped me call other bus drivers to check their vehicles — but to no avail. My phone was gone. I didn’t even know if I had been pick-pocketed or if it had simply fallen out of my pocket. I suddenly felt small and alone. I had left my roommates behind. My phone was missing. I was alone on a bus, in a gigantic city, that despite being filled with so many people and historical legacies, seemed suddenly foreign and lonely.

So why did I choose to go to the nation’s capital instead of spending the second semester of my junior year in safe and familiar Berkeley?

I’d been to D.C. before, but only on weekend trips as a national volunteer with the Red Cross. I fell in love during my short stays because D.C. was strange and exciting. I craved escape from the Bay Area world I had been born and raised in. I wanted to prepare for my career, and I was bored and lusting for travel, so in October I picked up my pen and sent in my application to the UCDC program.

However, when I got here, I slowly began to realize that this wasn’t a weekend trip, but a semester long excursion. I immediately expected to catch up with old friends who went to school here but I forgot they would be coming into town later and also that they had work, classes and friends of their own. Those first few days I had to find ways to explore and occupy myself by myself. I had to stop myself from sitting in my DC apartment and missing home.

Who would leave the safety nets they had so painstakingly woven in the first few years of college — a familiar environment, physical boundaries, core friend groups — for a completely new city? It is like repeating all the awkward moments of freshman year all over again.

However, my internship began, and I surprised myself with how comfortable I had become. I started walking home from work and taking shortcuts, transferring buses and memorizing streets as though I’d lived in the city for years. I stuck my hand out and introduced myself to people who hardly knew me in class and at work, old and young, and ended up having conversations with people I never would have befriended back in the confines of Cal.

It’s only been four weeks, but I’ve found comfort in the very fact that almost no one here knows my name. Putting myself in a new environment has allowed me to reinvent myself without the assurance of having a friend whom I could text and meet seconds later for a meal, or the certainty of my next destination — whether that be a restaurant or movie theatre.

The morning after my phone was stolen, I took the same bus route to the movie theatre, without a friend next to me or my phone in my hand to keep me company.

I realized that there is a certain self worth and independence gained from learning to do things alone. By nature, humans crave interaction and constant, even instant, communication. But without a phone and another person at my side, I learned how to rely on myself. I watched the movie alone and had a good time. I realized how truly comfortable I had become in my own skin.

I had chosen to go to college 15 minutes away from my hometown for a number of reasons, but mainly because Berkeley was the best. I discovered that although I loved the freedom and friendships I had cultivated during my first two years, something was still missing. I was still not truly independent. It was just too close for comfort. I am now 3,000 miles away, doing it all over again and this time, it might be the right way.

The point is, you’ll never learn if you don’t go. And you’ll always wonder “what if.” My best advice to you is to leave Cal. If you’re anything like me, it will start out unbelievably hard. But trust me, it will be worth it. Because only then will you know you want to come back.

Contact Anjuli Sastry at [email protected].