My first few weeks at Cal, I found myself having the same conversation over and over and over. Growing up in Miami, I never planned to move to California. I never dreamed of a star-studded, wildfire and atmospheric river-flooded college experience, I just wanted to go to what I deemed a “good school.”
I was obsessed with college acceptance compilations, but humbly decided to stop recording my own after being the only one of my friends to be rejected from the University of Florida. I hadn’t heard back from anywhere else besides Florida State and convinced myself my future was full of spray tans, bleached blonde hair and a constant feeling of failure.
This isn’t to say I wanted to go to UF, but I didn’t think I’d get in anywhere else after they’d rejected me in-state. So when I received congratulations from the University of California, Santa Barbara, I cried. I only applied to UCSB because it was just another box I had to check on the UC application. Essentially, I paid $75 for the validation of getting into a school tied in rank with UF and my parents saying they were “proud of me but UCSB was not worth moving across the country for.”
A few weeks later I opened what, at the time, I believed to be a completely unimportant decision letter. I never expected to get into Cal out-of-state, so no cameras were recording and I didn’t even tell my dad I was opening the decision as I sat with him in his office. To my surprise, I looked up and said “Dad, I just got into Berkeley” and instead of vague congratulations, he told me “I guess I have to let you go to California now.”
Fast forward through a summer of tears every time I remembered I was about to move a six-hour flight away from home, and I arrived bright-eyed and pink-haired to the University of California, Berkeley.
Being so far from home has come with its challenges. My first week at Berkeley, I hardly talked to my parents because between sorority recruitment and a three-hour time difference I was rarely free before midnight EST. No long weekend is long enough to justify more than 12 hours of travel, so I essentially only go home for Thanksgiving, winter break and bits of the summer. I’ve missed every family vacation since I started college.
The 3,035 miles I’ve put between myself and Miami have changed me as a person. I have Berkeley-fied myself down to my overpriced vegan leather sneakers and learned to love Trader Joe’s and Safeway instead of Publix.
I was originally horrified to come to college. I secretly hoped we’d get shut down two weeks into the semester just as UNC Chapel Hill did, and bawled my eyes out when my parents left me standing outside Unit 2. But even amid strict pandemic protocol and zero in-person classes, I found a home 3,035 miles away from the 305.
I had always dreamt of a small liberal arts education, but no matter how many Zoom info sessions I attended for other schools, I couldn’t ignore the fact that in my free time I’d add Berkeley merch to my cart and see what Cal ’24 looked like in my Instagram bio.
Three years later, while I’ve lost my original Berkeley hoodie and switched up my Instagram layout, I’m grateful to have been rejected from UF. I always wanted to go to “a good school” and while being a Florida Gator would’ve still looked nice on my resume and been a no-brainer considering in-state tuition, I have gotten so much more than just academic validation from Berkeley.
I’ve gained enough varying perspectives to last me a lifetime from our ever-so-opinionated student body, learned to love the mountains around us despite hating the Berkeley hills and have even grown to appreciate the Pacific Ocean regardless of never actually going for a swim.