PSA: My featured photo isn’t mine. I downloaded it from Ohio State Student Life’s Twitter (@StudentLifeOSU) because it was a perfect photo for this first post. I am in this photo, it’s just very hard to find me. OSU, please don’t sue me.
Move across the country, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Well guess what… it has actually been a fun journey, thus far. Check on me in late November when temperatures have fallen below 40 degrees and I see a temperature California has never seen.
I never thought I would pack bags to move across the country. I always thought my life would be centered around being in California, from going back to school to my jobs all the way to retirement. I had always planned for things to be in California. Two years ago, I was still editing my list of graduate schools to apply to, and that list was extensively California schools. A few months later, I’m talking to my mom about how I have a final list of 7, and only one of those schools was in California. I was nervous about that decision, but I told myself to go for it. The nerves didn’t actually kick in about moving to the other side of the country until I moved out of UCLA to move back home for about 2 weeks before moving to Ohio. All of July, the countdown was so present for me. Was I really about to do this?
As you can see, I did it. The first week I was here was a complete rush. I felt like I was spending all of it trying to figure out how to get around campus while the buses still weren’t running or buying things I needed for my apartment because I have never had my own apartment. It was a lot of confusion for a while. I spent almost every day with my first-year Assistant Hall Directors cohort. We did basically everything together, and that helped because I knew no one here yet. We were all exploring the new city together, as I consistently look baffled at the gas prices that were half the price of LA’s and taxes being 2% lower. Not to mention, the concept of traffic in Columbus is so different from traffic in LA. I was really here trying to understand this new culture.
I’m not sure how to continue going about this reflection, but let’s break it down into categories.
As someone who has been in ResLife for 6 years (hall council, RA, professional staff), I knew what I was walking into with the demands of the job. The first five weeks were hard, but I would soon realize that the first five weeks were actually the easiest parts. The transition wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be because UCLA already gave me the hardest transition with the environment change. Going from a large department at UCLA to a large department at Ohio State means I was unaffected. Even training wasn’t as hard on me because I was already used to the demand of training occupying your day and most times going home to continue doing training or other work responsibilities.
The biggest difference is that I’m in a ginormous building (again, it’s wild throwing almost 1400 people into one building). I was happily chilling in my two small communities at UCLA (600 residents or less). Now, I’m out here in a building twice the size in population. The actual building is nearly 8x taller. I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to survive, to be quite frank. What I do have in ResLife is a supportive working relationship with my supervisor (Hi Frida, and Ani for 4 weeks) and my co-AHD (Hi Clay), not to mention my staff (#MorrillBBE). They’re such a supportive and patient group of students. Most of them, if not all, have been in Morrill longer than I have, and they certainly have been at OSU longer than me. Transparency does a lot of things for a team.
Here’s the thing about ResLife: you’re always running. The pace is quick, and you have to stay on it as best you can. While I am waiting for the day that I can look at my to-do list and it’s not as extensive as it is now, I’m really enjoying this experience because I love the work that I get to do. The work is there, and I really don’t think it ever runs out. I’m okay with that. Every year, I genuinely think I’m going to leave ResLife for another department in Student Affairs, but I don’t know that I have the heart to leave yet because it’s just where my heart feels just right. We’ll see how I feel at the end of grad school.
The actual reason I’m here. I consistently have to remind myself that. Two years being out of school and working full-time changes things a bit. My mindset was completely different and my focus was entirely on my job for a long period of time, and I didn’t feel guilty when I worked over my hours because I had no school work to go home to. It’s different now. I have to remember the same things I tell my staff – you’re a student before you’re staff. It’s the one thing that I feel like I have to put sticky notes all over my apartment to remind myself of. I’m very excited that I get to be a student because I love academia and I love learning. I’m a nerd like that. However, that break between undergrad and returning really took a toll on me – despite really enjoying the material I’m learning about.
It’s been a challenge. There are times where I have to read my readings twice because my brain isn’t processing what I just read. I feel like my writing makes absolutely no sense most of the time. Worst of all, I sometimes just feel like a lost puppy when I’m in the classroom and I’m just trying to engage in the discussion but I can’t keep up. I’m an internal processor. I knew that there would be things in grad school that would really challenge me – getting back into a student groove, dense reading material, papers for days. I was mentally prepared for this to be a learning experience. What I wasn’t prepared for? SO. MANY. REFLECTIONS. So many conversations centered about thinking back to my college student experience to how I got into the field, and tying it all together with what I’m learning.
The last four weeks of school have really pushed my vulnerability. I’m not sure how many people around me can feel that I’m actually having to push myself so much in these spaces, but I am. Take this example: it was harder for me to create a 5-minute presentation about my college student development than it was to write a 3-page paper on how I got into Student Affairs. The difference? The first asked me to be more vulnerable about my experiences from college. While I loved college, my picture-perfect Instagram doesn’t show the other side. The second is all upward. All I did was tell my learning experiences without the harder, more challenging aspects. In other words, grad school is really teaching me how to understand a part of myself that I am – to be frank – uncomfortable with tapping into.
For those that know me or have had at least some conversations with me, it seems like an open book. But even my mom has called me dense and said it’s actually much more difficult to get deeper into my thoughts and feelings. I am open about what I WANT someone to know about me, but it takes a great deal to allow me to really open up. It takes a long time of trust, so this program is really about to push me harder than I’ve ever been pushed.
I knew what I was getting myself into moving to the Midwest. I knew not to expect the diversity I had in LA, I knew not to expect the authentic food I could get anytime and anywhere around LA, and I knew I would miss home. But I didn’t know how hard it would be on me emotionally so soon into moving here.
It’s really present in my mind that I am a woman of color. It’s kind of hard not to because when I’m in spaces outside of Ohio State or Columbus, I get extended periods of staring. My inclination is to poke people’s eyes out for staring too long, but I don’t think that’s the most appropriate thing to do. I think this is the hardest bit for me; it’s knowing that I’m so different and the population of my people here is very small – both in Ohio but also at Ohio State. I would really have to actively seek out other Filipinos if I needed that community, but I’m still not even able to take those steps because when I’m not at work, I’m at school.
I went for a month and a half without Filipino food, and I really thought I was going to forget who I was. I know that sounds dramatic, but you try not having access to your culture’s food (including access to ingredients/spices/sauces). In LA, it was easy. If I didn’t go to a restaurant, my mom was there with anything I wanted to eat. I have to go out 20 mins from campus to get the authentic food I want. The good thing is that I have the “modern” one relatively close by. I’m going to have to remember wherever I move to next to search up “Filipino restaurants or market in [name of city].”
When I say home, I don’t necessarily mean LA. It’s kind of smoggy in LA and the population is very high, so I’m kind of okay not being in the city. I miss my mom and my friends, just being nearby. It’s the feeling of being able to call them, tell them I want to be with them and not feel like I’m bothering them. I’m still not in a space currently where I feel like I’m not a bother to other people when I ask them to hang out. It has nothing to do with anyone making me feel like I’m a burden or anything; it’s just me not wanting to feel like I’m annoyingly always asking.
On top of it all, it’s the first time I’ve moved somewhere and I didn’t have immediate access to someone I know. The closest friend is almost 4 hours away in MSU (Hi Becky La) and the closest relative is 5 hours away in Chicago (Hi Ate Alelli). Thankfully, I’ve found some fellow Californians (Hi Rebecca, Macario, and Gelli – even though Gelli left back to CA) who have some shared thoughts and feelings in some aspects, and people outside my cohort that I can be with – because as much as I love my cohort, it’s healthy to be around other people.
Balancing out the grad student life with ResLife with trying to keep my mental AND physical health afloat Is doing so much for me. I’m constantly tossing myself back-and-forth trying to make sure I’m keeping up with schoolwork while also making sure I don’t fall behind on my job is about all that I’m really able to do, but I still sometimes feel like I’m drowning. As you can probably tell, my own well-being is not being kept up as I would want it to be, but I think I’m already doing better by trying to get ahead. I put “Lunch” and “Dinner” in my calendar (assuming I didn’t have coffee for a meal), my reflection breaks are my late-night showers, I try to video chat with my mom and/or my friends at least once/week, and taking actions towards my mental health.
It’s not going to be easy. I know that I’m going to spend a lot of the next two years just straight feeling overwhelmed. However, I also know that I’m loved and cared for by people that may not be physically here. I’m also supported by my ResLife team, my cohort, my faculty, and just everything. Sometimes, my recuperation from being overwhelmed may be screaming at the top of my lungs wearing every OSU gear I won at football games (which, BTW, I still don’t understand football but I’ll be damned if my spirit doesn’t show). Other times (actually, most), I’ll be wrapped up in my blanket like a burrito with a Bath & Body Works candle watching dramatic Filipino TV shows that’s got the most predictable plots. Whew, the introvert is really calling out to me these last four weeks.
Figuring our how to navigate my life changes is hard. I knew it would be, but experiencing it is on a different level. Preparing myself mentally was not enough for the emotional rollercoaster I would experience, and it is freaking hard to just let myself go with the flow. Going with the flow is not my normal; I mean, ya girl has her life mapped out for the next 10-ish years. Which also means that giving myself grace throughout this leaning time is another trying experience for me. I have to consistently remind myself that it’s okay not to be okay and that it’s okay for me to still be figuring things out. It’s okay for me to ask for help in all the spaces that I need it in. More importantly, it’s okay to not always be 100, even if that’s what I’m projecting (#FakeItTillIMakeIt, amirite?).
In this timeframe, I want to teach myself to put my well-being first and to remember that I am just as important as anything else I’m doing. If we get grades for our lives, I’d get an F for how I care for myself and putting my needs first. I’m slowly learning that this is okay to do and that it’s okay for me not to be at the speed of everyone else. The idea here is that I am supposed to be patient with myself and to give myself grace the way I do with my staff. It’s remembering that I don’t need to be setting the expectations so damn high for myself that it breaks me.
And some days, it’s just being thankful that I woke up in the morning.
Until next time,
Jamrensze (J-Mi) De Leon a.k.a. ” Miss Trying to Figure It Out”