If I Was A University Freshman

As I transition from community college and living at home to moving away and beginning my journey at university, I wonder how different my life would be had I went to university right after high school.

But I realize, every single event and interaction I’ve had through my current timeline has made me the person I am today. I cannot be upset with myself or regret not going to university right away. 

Finding My Passion

While my high school classmates were taking SATs and applying to universities our senior year, I was sure I was going to community college. I mainly chose that route to follow in my dad’s footsteps and save money, but I also wanted to stay at home because I was scared and I wanted to stay with my boyfriend at the time. At the time, I majored in electronics engineering so I could take over my dad’s business, but I knew in the back of my mind I was not sure about it. That career path was determined for me at a young age- I researched journalism for a 5th grade project, but my dad asked me why I did not choose engineering. At some point later, I realized I am more geared toward science, so I might as well choose electronics engineering because my parents encouraged me to do it.

I began college with a class in Electronic Systems Technology. My rationale was that if I enjoyed the class, I knew electronics engineering was for me. Although I did fantastic in the class (thanks, Dad) and I had fun, the class did not spark the passion I expected. That same semester, however, I was working on Calculus 2 homework when I was struck with an epiphany- I love medicine.

A week after graduating high school, I developed a kidney infection from an untreated UTI. I went to urgent care where I explained to Dr. Vogel my pain and problems. Incidentally, this is also where my dad found out I was on birth control pills for recreational use (AKA he found out I did the sex). Dr. Vogel was impressed with my vocabulary, and he told me he was sure I was going to be a doctor. But I told him, “No, Dr. Vogel, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be an electronics engineer like my father! I don’t want to be a doctor.”

My dad was against a career in medicine for all of us in the family because he feared being on the front lines during an epidemic. My mom played with the idea of becoming a nurse at one point, and my dad was completely against it for multiple reasons. The threat of getting sick easily scared me, and I knew the road to becoming a doctor was long. I never thought I would ever choose medicine. Despite being East Asian and Jewish, only one person in my family ever suggested I should become a doctor. My aunt/godmother mentioned it once.

The past summer consisted of numerous trips to doctor appointments for my father because he was preparing for multiple surgeries at Cedars-Sinai. I loved exploring the medical center and reading everything I saw while my dad was at his appointments. Not to mention, Cedars-Sinai is a Jewish hospital (in a Jewish city- Beverly Hills), and being in that environment was a unique experience for me. In fact, I felt a larger religious connection at Cedars-Sinai in 2015 than I did during my 2017 trip to Israel. Sometimes, I would sit with my father at his appointments, especially when he saw his surgeon. I enjoyed listening to the doctor and learning about my dad’s back. I helped my dad by remembering what he forgot after the appointment was over. Cedars-Sinai also has a publication, Discoveries, that features medical advancements and other news of the field, and I loved reading them.

So when I was sitting in the living room during Fall 2015 with my head in a calculus book, that was when it hit me- I need to be a doctor. Yes, I might get sick while doing it, but so many people are doctors and live. Yes, the journey will be long and hard, but I am smart and hardworking. For once, I found a passion that gave me motivation and drive to do something with my life! As long as I loved it, I would do anything to become a doctor.

I don’t know if I would have figured this out if I was away at university, and if so, I don’t know when it would have happened. Changing career paths at the university level would probably be more expensive than changing in college, so I am thankful I had the environment and resources to do so.

Inspired to Change my Major Life

However, it was not until the following summer, Summer 2016 when I officially changed my major. Through the MESA community at my college during Spring 2016, I learned about the Inspire program offered at UCI, one of the schools I considered for transfer. I almost did not apply for it. I thought, “I would never be picked for it, but it’s here so I might as well apply.” Back then, I also had a debilitating fear that impacted my life (it has to do with bathrooms), so I worried about how that would affect me at this program. To my surprise, I was accepted for the 2-week engineering and computer science program. I saw it as an opportunity to learn about using a Raspberry Pi and get a taste of college dorm life.

Prior to starting the program, my dad kept telling me that he expected to work with me on a project using the Raspberry Pi (RPi) that could be used for his business. I was not looking forward to it, but I figured I’d be more prepared after the program (spoiler alert: I wasn’t).

During this program, I made friends with almost everyone, including my fellow Inspire participants (community college students), Aspire participants (high school students), mentors (UCI/university students), and faculty. I loved the community I had in the dorms. To this day, I consider many of these people close friends.

I worked in a team with 2 other Inspire participants, Lawrence and Maryam, where we developed a prototype of an NFC wristband containing an electronic health record (EHR) that could be read by the RPi. The idea of this was to provide medical professionals access to crucial patient information (such as DNR, allergies, health conditions, etc.) in the situation where the patient is unable to communicate and friends and family are not around. Despite being good and enjoying programming in the past, I did not like it during this program. Maybe it was due to my inability to bridge the gap between real world and software, or maybe I just hated that Python did not use semi-colons to end commands. Also, I was the engineer of the group while my teammates were compsci majors.

I appreciated being part of this project and having the support of my teammates and mentors, but I realized that I really had no interest in actual electronics engineering. If I was going to spend 4-6 years on a bachelor’s degree before applying to medical school, then I better enjoy what I am studying. I decided to change my major to biomedical engineering: pre-med, a specialized degree that is exclusively offered at UCI.

Because I chose community college, I had the opportunity to be in the Inspire/Aspire program, which is only available to incoming high school juniors and seniors and continuing community college students. Incoming and continuing university students cannot (or at least, were not meant to) participate. Had I not been in this program, I would have never met the group of people I know today, I might still be majoring in electronics engineering, and I probably would not have fallen in love with UCI.

Meeting All my College (and Some University) Friends

It’s a given that I would not have the friends I do today if I never met them in college. Whether I know them from my classes, the MESA community, work, ASG, or SHPE, I doubt we would have ever crossed paths otherwise. Truthfully, I have too many friends to count. I don’t mean this as a “I have so many, they’re insignificant” but as a “I have made so many memories with each person. This post is already pretty long, and I can’t write everything I want, so I’ll have to mention my closest, bestest friends from college”.

Azzy is one of my best comrades from MESA. I can count on him to party, be my emotional support, and hold my hand platonically when I’m feeling lonely. In the past, I jokingly called him my fake boyfriend because I feel so close to him, but we mutually don’t have feelings for each other. May you always have de stones, my brudah. More stones than a biblical whore. I’d join you at CSUN, but I’m busy chasing my dreams.

Nathalie was my coworker, but I go to know her more through my organic chemistry class. We bond through our cultures (she’s ethnically Vietnamese and culturally German). We can talk to each other about things that bother us, and I love her very much. Good luck at your dream school, UCLA, habibi!

Josebelle is someone I loved to talk to during work (that is, when we’re not busy). We used to have the same exact work schedule, down to the half hour, one semester. I haven’t talked to her recently because she’s busy with nursing school at CSUN, but I’ll remember our study sessions at Starbucks and laughs at work.

Amy pushed me to be part of ASG as soon as she met me. I did not make the cut for an officer position when I first started, but she saw the potential in me. When things did not work out for an assistant position, she took me under her wing as her own. She has an incredible major change history, a diplomatic personality, and an ongoing drive. I know she’s scared, but she’s going to blossom at Cal.

I joined SHPE this past year where I became treasurer in a reboot of a once-thriving chapter at my college. Truthfully, the most notable thing I did for our chapter was network and get our school name out at the regional conference back in March. There, I made friends with UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, USC, and, of course, UC Irvine. I especially spent a lot of time getting to know the UCI members, and I am incredibly grateful that they accepted me with open arms, even if admissions hadn’t accepted me (yet). My favorite memory at the conference was when I got up to sing Livin’ La Vida Loca by Ricky Martin for karaoke (in a very tired voice). I asked 3 of my friends from my chapter to get up and dance, to which they did, and the next thing I know, all of UCI got up and danced along, too! I will definitely be joining them when I start this fall.

Last but not least, I had 2 parties at my house this past school year. If I moved away, that wouldn’t happen because my house would be too far. If I were at CSUN, then maybe it would work out, but I don’t know if they would have been as wild and fun as they were.

If I did not stay home for college, I may not have developed the social skills and outgoing personality I have today, and therefore, I would not have met or been able to meet the people I know today (and will know in the future). AND I wouldn’t have had some fantastic parties at my place.

Licensed to Drive

I never worked on getting my license in high school, which meant I had to work on it during college. If I moved away for university, I don’t know when I would have the opportunity to practice driving with my parents. If I went to university, which would most likely be CSUN (following in my dad’s footsteps), I might have depended on my parents to drive me. Although, my mom gave me a real hard time about driving once I started college. Either way, I may not have earned my license when I did, so I’m hella thankful for that.

Mental Health

Spring 2016 was when my depression got the best of me. I was skipping classes, experiencing anxiety episodes, and feeling insecure. I finally got the help I needed through a therapist and psychiatrist at my home mental health center. I started medication, which immediately alleviated my depression, and I started working on my major phobias, including driving and the aforementioned bathroom one.

Unfortunately, one of my fears came true in Summer 2017 when I experienced a car collision that I couldn’t do anything about. Because I was on my way home from UCI at night, I lost confidence in long distance driving. However, I reconquered that fear this past weekend when I drove home from orientation.

I can now proudly say that in 2018, I am able to drive and overcome my bathroom fear.

Conclusion

Overall, I think that if I went to university right after high school, I would still be majoring in electronics engineering at CSUN (no other school) today. I may have decided to change my career to medicine, but I may be depressed from staying with EE. I would not have the friends I have today, maybe very few at best. I would have missed out on an entire adventure and love for UCI, and I might not have gotten the undergraduate dorm experience I want (and will get) now. Yes, I might be spending 4-5 years in undergrad rather than 5-6, but I would rather spend a lot of time doing something I love rather than less time doing something I don’t care much about.

Don’t get me wrong, CSUN is a nice school. I did research there this summer, and I like so many of the SHPE members from their chapter, but I’m not so big on the color red. The campus is nice and full of nature, but I need to the opportunity to live somewhere outside my stomping grounds. I’m just a little too familiar with Northridge.

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