College Beat: Managing Transitions

By Maria Luis
B.A. Economics Major
University of California, Merced

My college experience has been an ongoing discovery of who I am and what I can become. Each year has presented itself with different obstacles and learning experiences that taught me independence, management, and communication as well as resourcefulness. As a first-generation Latina student, my college experience has been colored by a unique perspective that comes with its own challenges. Not having a background where my parents can provide me with the resources, financial help, or even advice is difficult. Knowing that I lacked these resources, I sought them out for myself because I knew they would be instrumental in bettering my future.

Attending college has always been a dream of mine because it would not only provide me with an education but would be a real growing period in my life.

Going into college, I was anxious for my first year at the University of California, Merced. I was worried that I wouldn’t find my place or be academically prepared. Mostly, I was afraid that I wasn’t ready to be on my own and away from my family. Transitioning from being dependent on my parent’s support to becoming an adult was an adjustment much more difficult than I had envisioned. Eventually, that sinking sadness I felt when my parents dropped me off, gave me a tight hug, and drove off- faded away. That’s when I started to learn independence.

Maria (top right) celebrates 18th birthday with family and boyfriend (top center) on Nov. 21, 2016.

I was fortunate that UC Merced had a very welcoming environment. UCM had plenty of resources, clubs, and jobs for me to explore. I then felt that in order to develop as a person and be more financially independent, it was imperative for me to get a job. Within a month into college, I was hired to become a Resident Assistant. At the time I didn’t realize how challenging it would be, but it was an experience I don’t regret. Through my job, I made many connections with peers, learned how to manage my time between work and classes, and developed professionally.

Most of the self-doubt I had during my freshman year eventually turned into confidence and I felt ready to begin my second year of college. As a second-year student, I was rehired as a Resident Assistant, continued to take a full course load, and managed to balance my long-distance relationship. Things were going well until I received a notice from the financial aid office; my financial aid was reduced for the coming semester. It was difficult to allocate money for tuition, especially because I come from a low-income family that can’t afford college expenses. Although I was extremely stressed, I decided to take a positive outlook and used it as an opportunity to be resourceful and efficient. I became frugal with my finances and started delivering food as an extra source of income. I overcame my financial struggle and was still able to enjoy my time as a sophomore.

I’m currently in my third year at UC Merced, and while I haven’t finished the year, I’ve already learned a few valuable lessons. I moved off-campus, which is within itself is an experience in comparison to the dorms. I was also hired as a student assistant for the Office of the Registrar and a student intern for the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion on campus.

Throughout my college career, I have remained academically successful while keeping up with my job. I have been able to maintain a social life and make life-long friendships with people I’ve met along the way. I’ve also surpassed financial struggles and kept my relationship intact through the ups and downs. I still have another year to go, and within that year I hope to continue to seek opportunities, study abroad, and prepare myself for life after college. Each part of my journey has been memorable and has helped me to develop into the mature, intellectual, professional, and independent Latina that I am today.