The Unexpected Way UCI Changed Me

College can be a very formative time, influencing us in ways that we never expect. There is the potential to make lifelong friends, to discover interests that we never even heard about until we set foot on campus and overall, just experience a completely new world from home and high school. By the end of college, a lot of people feel that they’ve grown into a new person.

But being a transfer that’s been to a few schools, I didn’t expect UCI to have much of an influence on me. In fact, I remember consciously thinking my first few weeks that I didn’t really care about trying new habits relevant to UCI or going for a “fresh start” approach the way that I applied to high school or my first college.

Busy with work and moving out of my apartment, I simply didn’t have the time to consider presenting a shiny, new version to myself to people that hadn’t met me before. I guess I also stopped caring about making a certain impression--I think that’s a part of just growing up and getting older.

When I got to UCI, I realized that I loved being at a huge state school because in the course of one day, I feel that I see and encounter so many different personalities and self-expressions on Ring Road alone. Today, I saw a couple with matching green hair and skateboards. This got me thinking more about my own personal style and embracing the importance of self-presentation. From designer-wearing international student to your average Cali girl, I took a lot of mental inspiration from my classmates.

Slowly but surely, I noticed myself making small changes due to the influence of UCI’s culture and one noticeable thing that’s occurred had been the increase in my bougieness. In November, I bought Airpods and haven’t looked back. Sometimes I am self-consciousness of the bougieness in Irvine culture. One only needs to go to any of the ten generic plazas to park next to a Porsche or see upper middle class families picking up a new set of Le Creuset cookware. And after visiting UCSC during spring break, I definitely saw UCI’s overabundant love of Adidas, Apple and Hydroflask even more.

But at the same time, I think UCI students understand the importance of self-presentation and that’s not always materialistic. UCI has given me a number of opportunities to practice dressing business casual and wearing professional clothing that I hadn’t experienced at community college. This may not have been something that I would’ve naturally gravitated towards if I had tried hard to fit into UCI’s culture.

Prior to coming to UCI, I didn’t think as much about developing a personal style and what that means to personal and professional success. Before transferring, when I went to school, I tended to be more focused on what I needed to do to get good grades than on what I was wearing. Now I see the connection between the two and I genuinely enjoy it.

Instead of deliberately trying to fit into UCI’s culture, I just observed it and took the parts that I liked. And in a way, I think that’s a better strategy to changing yourself instead of consciously trying to mold yourself to fit in. I realized that it’s better to try less and to just open yourself up to the environment that you’ll be calling your home for awhile.