By Emma James
Transferring schools midway through quarantine wasn’t how I expected my college career to go, but there’s nothing worse than a story that ends exactly how you expected it to.
I initially planned to go to UCF for all four years of college, but due to circumstances out of my control, I chose a school closer to home at the last minute so that I could commute. Knowing that I was settling for my second choice gave me some deep-seated feelings of bitterness toward the school I ended up at. I felt that I could accomplish more elsewhere, and I was wasting time there. As well, it seemed I’d fit in better somewhere else. I struggled to find my place even though I had friends who shared my interests. I was part of several organizations on campus, but I felt like an outsider no matter what I did. I knew pretty much every single person in my major by name, but we never really got past acquaintanceship—most of them were strangers to me. I struggled to make connections; my mind was always elsewhere. My professors were wonderful and my classes were interesting, but I was unfulfilled. I just couldn’t shake the thought that I didn’t belong there. I always felt like there was something missing.
The fact of the matter is, it was a small school. A tiny, private institution with less than 4,000 students, and it seemed like everyone there knew what they were doing, while I was wandering around lost. Plus, it was too close to home—I didn’t really feel like I was in college. I went to a small high school in South Florida, so attending a small university in North Miami wasn’t much of a change. I craved new experiences. I wanted to have room to grow and the space to try things out just for the heck of it, but I was limited. Being so close to where I grew up, I also didn’t have as much independence as I would have liked. No one goes to college looking to be babysat, but I constantly felt like I was being watched. By my professors, my advisor, my peers—I felt a crushing pressure to perform well because I was one of so few.
I found myself fantasizing about all the things I couldn’t do where I was; the things I’d learn somewhere else that would better prepare me for the world, the people I’d meet that would somehow foster more meaningful relationships, the places I’d go that would change me in ways my current school never could. I was fixated on a hypothetical place or point in my life where I’d be fulfilled—where I was at a school that challenged me without banking on my success—and it made it impossible to enjoy myself where I was. I couldn’t wait to transfer.
It was pretty touch-and-go for a while (I was a part of so many seemingly endless email chains that my inbox was perpetually cluttered) and I ended up having to transfer a semester later than I planned, but finally after two and a half years, I was at the school I wanted to be at from the beginning.
The second I got to UCF I noticed a shift.
My classes that first semester were all online, so I made sure to reach out to my professors directly and introduce myself. I knew that it would be easy to become a face in the crowd at such a big school, so I wanted to make sure they remembered me. I emailed all five professors, and all five responded enthusiastically. Congrats on transferring, nice to meet you, tell me about yourself! I was ecstatic; I didn’t expect the first friends I made at my new school to be professors, but I wasn’t going to complain. On top of that, every conversation I’d had with my advisor had been insightful and left me feeling hopeful, which was in stark contrast to the meetings with my advisor at my old school where I always left dejected, stressed and worried.
I had an overwhelming feeling that I was suddenly on the right track after being lost for so long (or maybe I had always been on the right track but for the first time I was moving at a pace I was comfortable with). I decided to keep the ball rolling and perused the UCF website trying to learn everything I could about what kinds of things went on here. I also followed every single UCF Instagram account I could find, which led me to FL PIRG, a student-run activist organization that advocates for things like racial and gender equality, affordable housing, renewable energy, and assisting with hunger and homelessness.
During my time as a member, I called legislators, reached out to people for petition signatures, and volunteered at events around campus—one of which was a clothing drive for the LGBTQ+ community.
I met so many amazing people while helping out at the drive, and as a member of the Alphabet Mafia myself, it was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. All of this helped me to break out of my shell a little bit and feel more acquainted with my community and the city that I had just moved to.
It was also very important to me that I make connections with my roommates, since I wasn’t taking classes in person and they were the only people I was regularly in close contact with.
I’m extremely thankful for the people I roomed with, because they’re some of the most fun and understanding people I’ve ever met. We spent as much of our free time together as we could, and although we no longer live together, we try our best to stay in touch. I truly consider all three of them close friends. Those first few months were tough, and their unwavering support was honestly super vital for me; I can’t imagine going through it with anyone else. My current roommates are equally amazing—we hang out together all the time and we got close very quickly. Their constant encouragement inspires me to make new connections wherever I can.
I don’t regret the time I spent at my old school. I had some excellent professors, made some of the closest friends I have, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. That being said, UCF provided me with the stability I was lacking. Going to a bigger school took some of the pressure off, and I’ve been able to focus more on relationships and opportunities for growth. Since transferring, I’ve been presented with multiple opportunities to better myself, and I’ve taken every single one. I’m more passionate than ever about my art, I’ve become involved on campus and in my community in more ways than I ever would have thought possible, and I’ve gotten close to people who I know have changed me for the better. Even though I spent more time on campus at my old school than I have at UCF due to the timing of my transfer in relation to quarantine, I feel so much more connected to my school and my peers here.
It took some work, and honestly I still struggle with it sometimes, but I’ve learned to focus on the things I want to accomplish that I have the power to make reality rather than the things I can’t do. I don’t feel like the integrity of the entire school is resting on my shoulders anymore, and I know that if I ever need assistance, there are hordes of people I can reach out to who will be more than willing to help me.
What this experience has taught me is that you should always prioritize your community. If there’s somewhere you want to be, somewhere you feel will suit you better, you should do whatever you can to get there. I guess I always knew that, but it took transferring schools and moving away from where I grew up for it to really sink in. It makes sense, though. I had to lose my support system in order to figure out how to build one from the ground up. The community I’ve found at UCF has cemented in my mind that finding your place isn’t so much a solo endeavor as a team effort, and it’s well worth the time it takes to get there.