I came back to UCR in January of 2014. Since it was winter quarter, I was the “new girl” in my dorm hall. I was pretty bummed, since I felt like everybody had already formed their little cliques, and didn’t have room for a newcomer.

I was wrong. I’m so grateful I got put in that hall because they are awesome people. It was important that when I went back to UCR, I’d live in the dorms again since my freshman year was cut short and I felt I hadn’t had the full “dorm experience.”

Like most freshman, I had been asked “Why UCR?” to which I would promptly answer, “UCR is the only UC with a creative writing major.” But now the question I had to ask myself was, “Why come back to UCR?” Well, of course for my major, but if I’m completely honest with myself, it was because I’m a stubborn person.

My freshman year was taken away from me and I was going to get it back. Going to another school would have been like admitting defeat. The end of my time at UCR during my freshman year wasn’t pleasant, but going in I was happy. Part me just wanted to recapture the “magic” of my freshman year. Part of me just wanted to go back to being the optimistic, doe-eyed person I was. Coming back, I realized how jaded I’d become. Prematurely losing the friendships I had my freshman year made me deeply distrustful of opening myself to new people. I couldn’t go back to who I was before, but eventually I learned that I could be happy again.

That isn’t to say it wasn’t a rough start. Besides my own personal change, things at UCR were different. I wasn’t going to get Professor Goldberry Long for Intro to Creative Writing again, because she wasn’t teaching that year. The one club I was involved in my freshman year, Kids in Need, no longer existed. Stacked Deli? Gone. (But that didn’t matter much, as long as I could still get carne asada burritos from Habanero’s.) Even though it was best to move on, there were people I missed that I both dreaded and hoped to run into again.

When you have to start over, it’s nice to know that some things stay the same. My first year back was a constant battle of “It isn’t like how it was before,” when I should have been thinking, “Think of all that could be different this time. Better, even.”

I remember freshman year saying that I wished UCR had a zero smoking policy, and viola! The very quarter I return, one is put into place — goes to show you that not all change is bad. Ask and you shall receive. Other cliches. A lot of people still don’t know that UCR is smoke-free now, so spread the word! As a “Cleaning the Air” Student Ambassador, it is my job to respectfully inform smokers of the new policy. It took me awhile, but I finally decided to get involved on campus again this year. My transition back probably would have been a lot easier and enjoyable if I had taken on some extracurriculars earlier.

Looking back now, it’s crazy to see how far I’ve come in a year. Even though I had some community college credits under my belt, I was re-entering UCR as a freshman, with a 0.00 GPA.

I’m a junior now. Yes, seriously. It is absolutely fun saying that. I’ve opened up myself to new people and have made some amazing friends as a result. I’ve even run into some people from my freshman year and nothing bad has happened! It’s easy to expect the worst when you’ve been away from somewhere a long time. And yes, I’m happy and optimistic about the rest of my time here. Not so much doe-eyed anymore, but that happens when life doesn’t go according to plan.

With the rising price of tuition, it is a strong possibility that I will be leaving UCR once again. I’m lucky for even being able to finish this year. I may come back, I may not, but at least I can now say that for two years, I was truly a Highlander.

My freshman year there was a dorm program where you got to decorate a whiteboard. I kept mine pretty simple. I did a wavy border with gold glitter, a giant heart in the corner in red glitter and a message across the top. It was pretty early in the quarter, but I guess I figured I’d be facing trying times at some point because I wrote, “You can do this Kate.”

Guess what guys?

I am.