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My First Semester in College 

My First Semester in College 

Villathina Ly is currently attending Occidental College, class of 2027.

My first semester in college went by so fast, but it felt so long ago. I still remember the first day I stepped onto the Occidental College campus and how surreal it felt. From Thorne Hall to the field of roses and squirrels running around and to the buildings that resemble Southern California architecture, I loved the campus from across the screen and I still love it upon seeing it with my own eyes. August of 2023 marked the biggest change in my life. I was ready to embark on this mission and adventure. August was when I decided to do everything that I had always wanted to—seek growth, offer help and whatever I wanted to do, I needed to JUST DO IT. I was ready to try everything to make this new country my home for the next four years.

I had a six-hour car drive with two of my mentors from Northern California to Occidental, where they moved me into my dorm room, made sure I got everything settled, and said their sweet goodbyes. After that, I attended a one-week-long international students’ orientation where I had the opportunity to meet and bond with other students coming from all over the world. On top of being introduced and shown how to utilize the abundant resources available for our academic, professional, and personal needs, our specific needs as international students, such as issues related to our F-1 status and U.S. Work Authorization, were also addressed.

After this, I attended the LA Engage program, where they took us to see the popular tourist destinations of Los Angeles, like the Griffith Observatory, the Last Bookstore, Grand Central Market, and a Dodger’s game. Then, we went to the new student orientation, where I was surrounded by the entire class of ‘27 at Occidental! My roommates moved in. At that time, I didn’t know how our relationship was going to turn out, but I know now that they are like sisters I have never had before, and love seeing them at home after a long day. They are the kind of people who see how I live every day and give me emotional support when I need it.

Classes started—I was excited for everything and kind of nervous to see how I would do having full instruction in English for the first time. I have to say that the academics and coursework in college are way more rigorous than those in high school. I remember the dread of trying to finish the assigned readings on time and hoping to get something out of it. I remember going to office hours and letting my professors know about my worries because I would never want to mess this up—my concerns were completely validated. One of the most important things I learned when being in a U.S. classroom is that I feel supported in sharing my perspectives in class and that it is okay to be skeptical of whatever was being taught to me. I was free to not believe what I was told. I was free to question the materials being taught. I was here to be intellectually challenged. That was not the case before college.

I remember the evenings when I went to the Writing Center to make sure my writing was coherent and understandable. By the time I was done, the sky got dark and the cold air made me question whether or not I could pull this off. I came here for a reason and I came here on a mission. The uncertainty of the future was so scary, but I remember my mentors’ words: keep working hard and you will be fine. So I did and I ended up more than fine.

I recall finally getting an on-campus job and making a few good friends who were kind enough to let me learn about their culture and graceful enough to learn about where I was from and my upbringing. I recall helping with the Glee Club’s Khmer pronunciation of their choral version of a Cambodian classic song, Champa Battambang, and experiencing their breathtaking performance. For the first time, I truly felt connected to my heritage here on campus. I reached the end of the fall semester, where I submitted all my work and assignments. I made it! It was my first time being away from home, meeting new people with different cultural backgrounds and diving into a completely different education system. I gave myself a mental pat on the back and sent my thanks to everyone who had been there for me. The campus was so quiet and empty on December 15th. I came to my room, preparing and packing the stuff I would need for my winter break adventures. I would use Taylor Swift’s lyrics to describe my first semester in college—it was “happy, free, confused and lonely in the best way.” It was not so easy, but it was so fun and worth it. I am so excited to start my second semester in the spring, meet new people and join more student clubs!