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Today [Aug. 27, 2020] was my last day working for the School of Humanities at UCI. From the moment that I signed onto Slack this morning, I anxiously watched the clock nearing 3:00 p.m., feeling my time at UCI come to an end with a stronger finality than when I graduated. I was now truly letting go, and I am now really moving on. To where, I don’t know yet.

Not knowing where life will take you because you don’t know where you want to go yet can be scary. And the shame of this fear is even more debilitating because shame can be such an alienating emotion when you let it hide the parts of yourself that you’re afraid to share. But I’m not the same person as I was before. I’m still scared, but I feel less shame, and I’m more confident that in the end, I’ll be okay and I’ll find my way. In the face of uncertainty, these are the ways in which I feel certain about myself. And when I started college, I was very, very far away from feeling sure of myself. 

In an Instagram post on my account, which has now been archived, I shared a self-written melodramatic poem that so cringingly, but earnestly, captured my teenage angst: the constant feeling that I was drowning because I felt so suffocated by my insecurities and sense of unworthiness. But lately, it feels more like I’m floating so that I can enjoy my life while also finding the direction that I want to take, one that will bring me closer to my true self. 

When I reflect on my undergraduate journey, my freshman year is just one place to demarcate time so that I can contemplate how I have changed while I was at UCI. But looking at only these past four years would be shortsighted, because I came into my first year with beliefs and values that I internalized as a child. Status. Prestige. Material Success. Work as a condition of receiving love and feeling valued. These were like diving rings sitting at the bottom of the pool. The longer I stayed underwater searching for them because I thought they would bring me fulfillment, the harder I found it to breathe because I was risking my life for the wrong things. It took the fear of being in a new environment, though, to make me realize that I didn’t want to figuratively be where I was at in my life. 

Finding my way back to the surface has taken a lot of effort and patience. And it’s so lovely being here. Feeling loved by the people in my life has always given me strength; in fact, I thought it was my only source of strength. But I couldn’t live this way anymore because I knew I deserved more from myself. Turning inward, I began learning how to receive love from myself that I didn’t really know how to give at the time. And like with everyone’s journey of self-love, it wasn’t easy for me and it still isn’t—it’s not supposed to be, at least not in our world. How I define my happiness and self-worth is different today than it was four years ago, and I am in a much better place because of that. 

There are a lot of things that I have to unlearn though, and I still hear the voice inside of my head that enjoys punishing myself. However, there’s another voice that I hear and listen to more often now. It’s the one that loves and forgives myself, and it’s the one that makes me a better person. So now, when I choose to dive underwater, I hope that it is toward the unknown in search of all of the ways in which love casts light onto the world and fills us with awe. 

Alice Nguyen

UC Irvine '20

English Major at UCI with a weakness of writing biographies
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