For the last 18 years of my life, whenever I looked outside my bedroom window, I saw two giant trees and a tiny shopping plaza, which housed four stores.
But, for one unforgettable year, I looked outside my bedroom window and saw the San Francisco landscape.
Making the decision to leave such a life-changing city was bittersweet. Even, now, at my third college, I still remember the endless stretch of buildings and Karl the Fog blanketing the entire city.
San Francisco was the year-long "Eat, Pray, Love" expedition I needed in order to refocus my life.
Somehow, I made it from a small college in Milton, MA, all the way to San Francisco, CA, before I realized where I really needed to be was near home, in Boston.
But, everything I learned along the way will stay with me forever.
1. Never underestimate your ability to change your life.
At the end of my senior year of high school, I had only one goal in mind: attend college in California.
While I wasn’t sure which city at the time, being rejected to every college to which I applied on the West Coast certainly gave me more time to choose an appropriate city.
This was a wake-up call for me. I knew I had one year and another chance to prove to myself I was ready for this new life I desperately wanted.
My hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts was not enough; I was bored and unchallenged. It’s extremely hard to break a cycle when you’re comfortable. I didn’t want to be comfortable anymore.
I wanted that challenge; I wanted to go to a city where I knew my values and beliefs would be tested. San Francisco, being an epicenter of culture, seemed like the ideal destination.
I knew from the very start the college I attended in Milton would be my starter school. I came in with resting bitch face, with the sole goal of succeeding, and I left with a nicer resting face, but this time, with an acceptance letter from my ideal university in San Francisco.
I was never one for making huge waves, so when I made the decision to move 2,400 miles away from a life I had known for so long, it was a genuine shock to many.
Even as I boarded my 6am flight, it didn't really hit me how much I undervalued my ability to change my life until I wanted it badly enough.
San Francisco, CA
2. Starting out fresh and being alone will be one of the toughest challenges in your life.
I’m still embarrassed to admit this, but I cried A LOT during move-in day. Had it not been for the kindness of strangers, I don’t think I would’ve even gotten all my bags to my dorm room.
I had finally understood what it felt like to be Cady Heron looking for a lunch table to sit at. But, in my situation, there were no Plastics or Regina George — just me.
Not having my friends and family within an arm’s reach forced me to grow up. I could spend all day crying and feeling bad for myself or gain the courage to go across the hall and introduce myself. Thankfully, I chose the latter and ended up making an amazing friend.
While I might’ve felt like I was the only one starting out fresh and alone, looking outside my door, there were 40 other people doing the same exact thing.
3. Everyone should endure a culture shock at least ONCE in life.
Experiencing a new place's culture is like combining eight different genres of music, but having it all come out sounding good. I was in a city where hipster coffee shops, preferred gender pronouns and tech workers were the norm. I was experiencing a cultural earthquake.
Having grown up in a conservative Asian family, I only knew one type of culture. I saw clearly for the first time what type of world another city could offer. I wanted to learn and engage myself deeper in something that was so new to me.
It was truly a humbling experience to see things from such a different, artisanal, vegan perspective.
4. Leaving doesn't mean failing.
Time is not the correct measurement for success, achievements and accomplishments are.
Things as small as volunteering at a food shelter or worrying about the gentrification of neighborhoods were all new to me. Everything I was doing seemed so out of character, but it was an inviting change. I was caring more and embracing change more.
Regardless of what superficial goals I harbored about San Francisco before I got there, I left with more appreciation for everything around me.
5. Readjusting to your old life might be even tougher than being alone.
It was the same airport, the same friends and the same view — but a different me. Being away for such an extended period of time led me to forget how much things had stayed the same.
The cogs in my head turned differently and all of sudden, I was forced to rewire them to how they were before.
Same isn’t necessarily bad, but different isn't how I learned to live my life. I was no longer in a place where I felt challenged; it was very much a “been there, done that” attitude. I knew I needed something new in my life that would keep me constantly growing.
Going to a new school and starting a new internship was that new challenge. As much as it was difficult to transition into the role of student and intern again, putting on the same hats, despite wearing an entirely different outfit, definitely helped.
6. Failure to grow is the biggest failure.
Leaving San Francisco never felt like a failure to me, but if I came back as the same person as I was when I left, it would’ve been my biggest failure.
It wasn’t easily noticeable at first, but I knew I wanted things to be different. The old me would be content living a monotonous life, but this unrecognizable new me wouldn't have it.
There was this innate desire to want to live life differently. The adventures I had in San Francisco, I wanted to have at home.
I underestimated my ability to change my life before, but not again.
7. There will be more adventures in the future.
When I came back to Boston, my body was physically there, but my mind was out, jet-setting and seeing the world. I missed the culture shock of being in a different city and craved more adventures like it.
When I used to look into the future, I saw myself 5,000 miles away, in place I would be happy to call home. As much as I want that to be my future, I know I can't f*ck up the present. I finally have stable footing and can see what I want to accomplish.
Years from now, after I move 5,000 miles away, I want to look out my bedroom window and see pink sand beaches, sunsets over the horizon and another entirely new world.