A View From the Hill

Living only an hour away from home, I never grasped the true meaning of “coming home for the holidays” during the winter breaks away from UCI; I already went home once a month anyway. However, this past fall, I was a part of UCDC, the UC’s internship program for University of California students in Washington, D.C., and coming home this time around was the most uniquely humbling feeling I had experienced  in college.

I always thought I was going to get the hell out of Southern California and go to college somewhere completely different; somewhere I would be out of  my element. I wanted to travel, experience culture shock and  develop a sense of who I was as an individual without the help of people I had grown up with. However, I found myself in tears the night before my flight. As I sobbed about how far I would be from friends and family and how much I’d miss my favorite L.A. spots, my dad simply remarked, “You think about this the next time you say you want to move out of California.” His words are still ingrained in my mind, but after getting to travel all over the East Coast for four months, I’ve still maintained my appetite for adventure.

Immediately upon flying into Washington D.C., my eyes went from red and puffy mess to wide and shocked with excitement. I immediately changed from upset and homesick, to eager and anxious. I was going to get to hang out and explore an entirely new city for the next four months.

Over the next fall, I embraced a completely different lifestyle than the one I was accustomed to in SoCal. I took the subway and walked everywhere. I worked 30 hours a week at C-SPAN, a media company overlooking the U.S. Capitol Building, while bundled up in temperatures ranging 23-63 degrees towards the latter half of the program. I know a lot of people at UCDC were startled and scared by these totally opposite changes, but for me it was something new and exciting to conquer. I quickly went from being horrible with bus routes to easily navigating the Metro and telling tourists which stops to get off at. Walking amongst the nation’s monuments became a casual occurrence for me as my friends and I would walk to dinner or to explore another part of the city for the weekend. It was like living in someone else’s shoes. It was refreshing and just plain fun.

I got to travel to other cities that I had never been to before as well. New York City was an entirely new world to step into for me. Its fast-paced nature was a whole new level from the vibe of Washington D.C. The cultural variety and amount of things to do in NYC was wonderfully overwhelming.

In Miami, I felt that I had stepped into Cuba. Surrounding me were thousands of Spanish speakers and rich, flavorful foods. The paradise beaches surrounding the city was bright, hot and beautiful. I had never done as much traveling before as I had done this year — it was amazing to witness first-hand just how diverse the United States is.

Despite the amount of entertaining things I got to do, the East Coast lifestyle still had its challenges too. As soon as I got off the plane, I could feel my clothes sticking to my body — I had arrived toward the end of the summer and the humidity was terrifying. All the walking tours I did around D.C. left me covered in sweat and sunburns. And when it got cold? It got cold. Walking to a bus stop while freezing winds were vigorously slapping my face became a regular occurrence when the first cold front hit, as was breathing through my mouth instead of my nose outside because it was frozen, red and runny.

Waking up at 7:30 a.m. every morning for work was a shocking contrast from the 12 p.m. lectures I was used to. Doing the 9 to 5 grind for four months made my one day of 10 a.m. class seem like heaven in terms of sleeping in. Eight-hour workdays in general are mentally draining and have made me realize that a 9 to 5 lifestyle just really isn’t my ideal way to spend life after college (cuts out a lot of options for me, huh?).   Having to live in a dorm again, was kind of a pain in the butt. The people I had spent such a long time in college building friendships with were gone. It was hard to have to start from scratch, socializing with people who were totally different from one another and so much older too. It’s hard to make lasting friendships with people within a span of three months and despite the amazing friendships I did make with people in D.C., I also found myself talking on the phone with friends and family on a frequent basis.

Even though I spelled out an equal amount of pros and cons of my trip in D.C., I have to say that the pros outweigh the cons by far. Although I felt miserable leaving friends and family, I got to be a part of something I will probably never have the opportunity to do again in the future. I hate to be cliché, but I really did make memories that I’m going to carry with me for the rest of my life. I find myself comparing the convenience of public transportation to the not so convenient nature of L.A. driving on a regular basis. I miss the nightlife that seemed to engulf the entire youth of D.C. every weekend. I miss being in a city that is architecturally stunning. Coming home for the holidays was a humbling feeling, but my time spent in D.C. has helped me realize that, as an undergraduate preparing to graduate in the spring, I can’t help but get excited about the next step to come.