Audrey Kenyon / Daily Nexus

Last year was my freshman year at UC Santa Barbara. Toward the end of the year, I wrote a three-part piece, each part reflecting on my experience during every quarter. We have decided to publish each part during each corresponding quarter this academic year. So, as we begin a new fall quarter, please enjoy my reflections from Fall Quarter 2021, my first quarter at UCSB. Check out this Spotify playlist to enhance your reading experience. 

Here are all the things that I envisioned for my fall quarter at UCSB, in no particular order:

  1. Find the love of my life. 
  2. Find five other people to make up my friends-esque ensemble cast. If not “Friends,” at least “Community.”
  3. Let the college experience turn me into the most intelligent, attractive and fulfilled version of myself.

Spoiler alert, it didn’t go exactly as planned…

What actually ensues is much less interesting: a pre quarter-life, quarter-life crisis. Many days are spent wondering why Santa Barbara’s winter somehow feels colder than the Bay Area’s (answer: We’re on the beach) and taking regularly scheduled solo late-night beach walks that my mom absolutely detests because I’m “putting myself at risk” or something. 

The day I move in is cloudy and bright. With my LED lights and “The Social Network” posters plastered to my wall, I prepare myself for university life. 

Soon enough, I start making friends. We bond over our undying love of “Schitt’s Creek” and mutual distaste for certain dining hall entrees. 

I begin journaling and regularly working out, both things that I had failed to be consistent with in the past, but I’ve managed to keep up with at college. 

I read more, on the way to class and club meetings. I go to a used book store and pick up a copy — the only copy they had — of “The Accidental Billionaires,” the book that “The Social Network,” my favorite movie of all time, is based on.

I join clubs and student organizations that interest me. I regularly attend meetings for the Society of Automotive Engineers, despite knowing absolutely nothing about cars. 

At night, I take the bus back home and proceed to brag to my concerned parents that I’m “so independent.” I go to visit my friend in LA and we buy matching jackets. 

All my classes are humanities GEs, so naturally, I’ve fallen in love with them. The myriad of essays I’m assigned are an immense joy to write. 

Well, until the night my English 10 essay is due.

My essay is due at 11:59 p.m. It’s currently 8:30 p.m., and I have not started. I stare at the blinking cursor, urging myself to write something, anything to fill the page. Tonight at 11:59 p.m. also marks the end of the quarter, a moment synonymous with indescribable exhaustion and the unrelenting need to flop over onto a couch and watch “Seinfeld” for three days straight. 

9:30 p.m. A feeble three sentences.

10:15 p.m. Four sentences.

And all at once, it all hits me, and I begin to cry. 

The essay was not the only cause for my outbreak of sobs. In reality, it was the three-month long culmination of my emotional response to the jarring, 800 voltage shock that my college experience was not like I had pictured it. At all. All along, I avoided thinking about how my expectations and experiences weren’t matching up — the puzzle pieces were not making a very pretty picture, because they wouldn’t even fit together. My expectations and my reality were so starkly different that they were worthy of one of those cheesy YouTube videos from 2015. 

But, things like this aren’t always so simple. A quarter-life crisis level mental breakdown isn’t always as simple as, “college isn’t going the way I want it to.” Nevertheless, when college doesn’t exactly go the way you want it to, it doesn’t help.

This is not to say that my college experience thus far was bad; there were many moments that I truly enjoyed. I enjoyed getting to know new friends over matcha lattes at Cajé and stir fry at the Carrillo Dining Commons. I enjoyed reminiscing my highs and lows of the week at my American Marketing Association social committee meetings. I enjoyed discussing and debating unconventional poetry with the people in my English 10 Honors section. But I was never fully satisfied. I was looking at everyone else in my life and wondering why my experience didn’t look like theirs. 

My friendships were coming along, but they were taking time to develop. I was still getting to know people, letting the relationships progress slowly. Hopefully, somewhere along the line, we could eventually get to a point where we can call each other best friends. The thing was, everyone else had found their best friends. It seemed like everyone else knew right away. For them, it seemed easy and fun, like they didn’t have to try as hard as I did. 

Then came an influx of infuriatingly aesthetic, Pinterest-worthy fall quarter Instagram photo dumps. My bookstore rendezvous and dinner at the dining hall didn’t seem as exciting or glamorous as they did before.

[@acquaintancefromhighschool] only needed three months to find her lifelong friends at school. [@friendfromhighschool] found her literal soulmate, the actual love of her life. [@childhoodfriend] tells me over a FaceTime call that it all just happened, naturally. [@anotherchildhoodfriend] posts a “come to X school”-themed TikTok, filled with a college experience that looked a whole lot better than mine.  

Their posts embodied the romanticized college experience TikToks I had watched and saved just a few months prior. 

Cue “jealousy, jealousy” by Olivia Rodrigo because “I kinda wanna throw my phone across the room.”

I was falling behind, time was running out and before I knew it, I would be wearing my cap and gown telling myself that I only had “a couple more minutes” left to attain the perfect, sitcom-worthy college experience. 

But really, the crux of it all, was the whiplash of being catapulted into the intense extraversion that adulthood required. My social life had been undeniably sheltered since the start of the pandemic. I engaged in hours-long FaceTime calls with my tight-knit group of high school friends, with nothing else prompting me to branch out. I was comfortable; frankly, I was too comfortable. Once I got to university, it felt like I had to relearn what it entailed to make new friends and to know new people. It was an adjustment, one that my friends didn’t seem to need to make.

Back in my dorm room, I call my mom, wipe away my tears, ask for an extension on the essay and head to sleep.

As I stare out the window on the six-hour-long Amtrak bus back home, I listen to “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve in an attempt to have the oh-so-coveted “main character moment” that everyone’s been talking about. You know, the moment when the main character looks back on all they’ve been through — all the hardships and struggles — and focuses their gaze on an object into the distance, offering the camera a resolute yet attractive look signifying to the audience that it was all worth it.

I think, “Winter quarter, here I come.”

Amitha Bhat walked around campus last fall as though she was the star of the “Bittersweet Symphony” music video.

A version of this article appeared on p. 12 of the Sept. 26, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.