Taking the Road Less Traveled from the Central Valley to UC Irvine

If you are a first-generation college student and are considering moving away for college, my advice is do it! The idea can be extremely intimidating, especially if you come from a traditional Mexican family like I do. I grew up in a small, migrant, farm worker town called Reedley located in the Central Valley. It’s a town where everyone knows each other and all of my schools from elementary to community college were Latino.

After completing my associates degree at Reedley Community College, I had a choice to finish my bachelor’s degree at the local university or attend the University of California, Irvine (UCI) which was four hours away. Many of my classmates transferred to the local university, but I wanted to take a different path. As I pondered my options, I thought of, “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost. I knew I had to make one of the most important decisions of my life. I was scared to leave behind everything I knew: my family, friends, my awesome part-time job. In the end, I chose UCI.

On my first day of my new life, I still remember the feeling of excitement about who I would meet and sadness of the life I had left behind. Coming into this new place, I began to understand just how sheltered I had been, growing up in the rural Central Valley. The scenery was so beautiful when I moved that summer. The weather was a perfect 75 degrees, and the sun flirted above me with the pristine white clouds that decorated the sky. Even the air smelled different, it felt like I was in a resort. In contrast to my small slow-paced town, Irvine was always busy, and there was an abundance of 24-hour restaurants all within a walking distance. Most of all, it was how different everyone looked from me that I remember the most. Before moving to Irvine, my interactions with people outside my race and culture were limited. Now I had become part of a community comprised of various cultures and religions. On campus, I spotted very few Chicano and Latino students, and most of my classes had a lot of Asian students. As a transfer student, I found it hard to make connections with students who had been roommates in the dorms together. I was the outsider, trying to make friends with students who had known or lived with each other for two years already. I had to make an extra effort, so I became involved in clubs and joined study groups.

Gradually, I became less homesick and I made friends with other transfers like myself. I fell in love with boba (Irvine is known for this), excelled in my classes, went to so many beautiful places in the area, and as cheesy as it sounds, I did make lifelong friends. Looking back on my first day in Irvine, I am smiling because it brings back all these memories. I am proud of myself for taking the chance to bet on the unknown, and you will too. It can be scary, but my advice is not to let that fear hold you back. Instead, embrace it as part of your glorious journey ahead. I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

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Eliana Oropeza

Eliana Oropeza

Eliana Oropeza… is a first-generation Mexican American college graduate born and raised in the Central Valley. She is currently a Health Education Specialist with the Madera County Public Health Department under the Community Wellness section. Eliana is currently working with select primary care Provider offices and promotoras to implement the Diabetes Self-Management Education program for adults with type 2 diabetes. Eliana has also worked with the Fresno County Tobacco Prevention Program and the Babies First Program in the implementation of tobacco-free policies and the promotion of health and well-being of mothers, babies and families. Eliana is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine with a degree in Public Health Sciences and a minor in International Studies. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Health through the San Jose State University. On her spare time, she enjoys hiking, video production, and blogging about health, women’s rights, education, and environmental justice issues.

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