With the majority of my peers in high school relocating to the midwest or east coast after graduation, I felt ashamed to admit that I was attending a university that was a mere 45 minutes away from my hometown. I felt that since I still had the luxury and convenience of coming home nearly every weekend, I would miss out on the quintessential, transformative college experience. I feared that while everyone was off exploring new cities, meeting new people and facing challenges without relying on their parents, I would remain stagnant and unchanged.

However, as I leafed through the old journal I only wrote in for the first quarter of college, I failed to identify with my old self at all. Instead of feeling nostalgic for the old times, I felt like I was reading through a stranger’s journal — one who was entitled, self-absorbed and unsatisfied with her academic situation. Reading my old journal entries was an eye-opening experience. It made me reevaluate my current self more closely, and pinpoint how the most salient features of my identity came to be.

For example, four years ago I never would have imagined adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. High school me was a self-proclaimed “foodie,” willing to try whatever outrageous, meaty concoction was trending on the internet (at the time it was ramen burgers). However, after taking an English class and a sociology course with readings that discussed the massive amount of water that meat farming required and its adverse effects on the atmosphere, I decided to give up meat for 40 days — which has now turned into two years. I couldn’t imagine giving up meat four years ago, but now I can’t imagine eating meat ever again. I’m satisfied with my decision, and it was a result of two classes that were not even aimed at indoctrinating me into the lifestyle.

While I did take advantage of my hometown’s proximity by doing my laundry for free on the weekends or swiping food from my parents’ refrigerator, being away from the comfort of my own home, even for short periods of times, allowed me enough independence to become a self-sufficient human being.

Living in such close proximity to school allowed me an exorbitant amount of free time. I eventually filled this time by acquiring a job on campus as a graphic designer and volunteering as a research assistant in a developmental psychology laboratory. In retrospect, I was probably spreading myself too thin by taking those commitments on with a full course load, but I enjoyed being busy and productive (two things I didn’t realize I would enjoy being).

Earning my own (very meager) salary helped me realize the importance of budgeting. Whereas 17-year-old me spent money as quickly as it came to her, I have a decent amount of money saved up now. I learned to put a portion of my paychecks away, and to be more restrained when shopping. Instead of buying every little thing that piqued my interest, I now meticulously assess how useful a particular item will be, and whether I truly need it in my life. Because of this, my friends consider me a good shopping companion, since I am capable of advising them whether or not something is a worthwhile purchase.

Working in a research laboratory exposed me to the realm of research and academia, and helped me realize the amount of innovation taking place on campus that people normally don’t recognize on a daily basis. Besides becoming proficient in Microsoft Office, my position as a research assistant imparted me with improved critical thinking, analytical abilities and the social experience necessary to interact with strangers and professionals.

Getting involved on campus not only made me appreciate attending UCR even more, but it has exposed me to a variety of individuals that have changed the way I think and view the world. Who I am now, ultimately, is a sum of my college experiences.

I suppose I never noticed how much I changed because of how gradual it was. Much like how you don’t notice how much weight you’re gaining until your pants don’t fit anymore, or because you finally stepped on a scale after three years, internal change is also imperceptible until you have a comparison point. So for anyone who finds themselves underwhelmed with their college experience, you might be surprised to find that even the seemingly inconsequential activities you took part in might have changed you.