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From the moment I stepped onto UC San Diego’s (UCSD) campus, I did not feel the butterflies that I thought I was supposed to feel. Every book I had read described a feeling of joy, of feeling at home, of possibility. All I felt was a deep dissatisfaction. 

Six months later, I was again on UCSD’s campus, but now as an enrolled student. I still had not been able to squash the doubts I had during my first visit, but the excitement of moving away from my parents and living my college fantasy out was too tempting to pass up. I just could not  commit to a school closer to home. It did not particularly help that whenever I sought out help, friends and teachers would ask, “Why would you stay here when you can go to UCSD?” I learned quickly that name recognition was of paramount importance to some more than others.

Another thing I also learned quickly: UCSD’s reputation as “UC Socially Dead” is no joke. I hoped fervently that the air of despair I felt during my visit would dissipate once other excited freshmen moved in, but I found myself relying mostly on my suitemates. I found comfort in our late night talks, during which we all confessed our struggles to adjust; but during winter quarter, as I studied the wall of my dorm room trying to talk myself into getting out of bed so I could join my suitemates for breakfast, it dawned on me that perhaps my constant sadness, my loneliness and my lack of motivation were more serious than homesickness. A psychologist at Counseling and Psychological Services officially diagnosed me with clinical depression and noted that staying at UCSD was like “running uphill with pneumonia” — doable but painful. 

After this diagnosis, I threw myself into phone calls and research about transferring. I felt strangely relieved that I was coming home even as I battled with difficult questions like “Am I a failure?” and “Is this the correct choice if name brand is the only way my degree will matter?” An uneventful year of therapy, community college courses and transfer applications passed; looking back, that year allowed me to heal from the crippling feelings of failure I felt and recover from one of the worst depressive episodes of my life. 

Now armed with knowledge about the reality of the college experience, I confronted my admissions decisions with new eyes. UCLA’s name recognition and location were incredibly appealing — I felt like going to such an elite institution would help me collect the worthiness I’d lost in La Jolla. But I could not see myself studying in the Hogwarts-esque library or walking along the sprawling green lawns. At UC Riverside (UCR), I felt comfortable. The campus was as beautiful as UCLA’s but less uniform and more homey. I saw faces that looked like mine. The sky the day of my visit was overcast and gray, but now I understood the feeling of possibility and satisfaction that I was yearning to feel during my first visit to UCSD.

I have been asked the same question I heard in high school since my decision to transfer: “Why choose here when you could’ve gone to UCLA?” The question is not a sore spot anymore; I can laugh off my friend’s incredulous look and continue our walk down the Bell Tower on our way to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. 

Even though I have had my fair share of tears and disappointments at UCR, the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences’ (CHASS) motto, “At Home in the World,” has always rung true. Unlike my experience at UCSD, there was not one epiphanic moment that made me feel welcome. My time at UCR has been a collection of sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes doubtful, but mostly joyous moments that have helped me grow as a person. I understand how difficult it must be for incoming freshmen and transfers to commit to schools without being able to physically visit the campus, but I hope they rely on factors outside of prestige or location.

 Today, I feel at home among my fellow students. I have met amazing friends who are smart and critical and resilient, despite jokes by other UC students to the contrary. Time and time again, I have felt seen and supported by my professors; I have received thoughtful comments every quarter about my work and I have been able to cultivate relationships with them in a way that I know would have been difficult at a huge school like UCLA or UCSD. To my surprise, I also found a home in HUB 101, at The Highlander. Working side by side with passionate, hardworking individuals to grow as a collective reflects my time at UCR, I realize that the old adage is true — home is where the heart is, and heart is something UCR students have in abundance.