Life as a First-Year Commuter

Photo courtesy of Flickr user SounderBruce. Link to license.

It is 6:47 a.m., and I have just parked my car after a 40-minute drive. I will most likely be spending an additional hour in this liminal space before I leave to walk to my class. Another student parks next to me, and they recline their chair all the way back to catch up on some precious sleep. Are they just as tired as I am? Are they a first year too? Do they feel like they might be missing something? Do they feel just as happy as I do, even after everything?

When I tell people I’m commuting from Oceanside, a city around 40 minutes away from UC San Diego, but an hour away with traffic, they are usually shocked. “What year are you?” They ask. “I’m a first year,” I reply. Then they counter with “Aren’t you missing out on your college experience?”

I don’t blame them for their curiosity. I have thought this question over many times myself, wondering how different my life would have been if I had traveled far for college like many of my peers. However, the truth is that college has never been an “experience” that I was looking forward to, but rather a privilege I have been lucky enough to receive.

When the college acceptance letters started rolling in, one of the biggest factors I had to consider was how geographically close I would be to my parents. Yes, I could leave, but if I did, there was a chance there would be a family emergency and I would be inaccessible. Furthermore, I would be putting another financial burden on my parents—something I wanted to try and steer clear of.

Both my parents are on the older side, and their health has been a worry of mine since I could remember. For a third of my life, my dad has struggled with health problems, and at 12, I thought everyone must know the fear of nearly losing a parent. It turns out this was a grossly inaccurate assumption: Most college kids have grandparents my dad’s age, and their parents’ health has been the least of their concerns.

While my college experience thus far has been rather unorthodox, I realize the experience I want is something I have a great amount of control over. For example, one of my biggest fears was not making any friends. However, I have found that just by sitting next to someone new every week, I have been able to meet various people. Even by just going to dining halls, I have met people who are incredibly kind to me.

Conversely, while UCSD does offer many resources for commuters, there is also great room for improvement.

When signing up for new student orientation in my college, it was suggested that commuters select a certain day. Following this, I chose the day that would mostly consist of fellow commuters. However, I realized rather quickly that this was actually a mistake. By grouping commuters together, many of us were just as lost as the others, and had little beneficial advice to offer each other. Instead, I have found that I have connected the best with those living on campus. Not only do they know all the good places to eat, such as fun places like Roots and Middle of Muir, but they also know where all my lecture halls are—something I, among other commuters, am still struggling with.

Furthermore, UCSD needs more lockers, or at least more lockers near lecture halls. While students living on campus can leave their laptops and books in their dorms between classes, I’m stuck carrying 15 pounds of material all day, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. While I do have a locker at Price Center, this can still be inconvenient since two of my lectures are in Galbraith Hall. Instead, integrating lockers in lecture halls, or at least more evenly dispersing storage across campus would be much more beneficial for those of us carrying a heavy load all day.

And finally, parking.

While I am lucky (or unlucky) enough to be arriving on campus early enough to secure a spot, the minuscule amount of parking spots available to students is incredibly frustrating, especially for those of us who are commuting. By the time it reaches 7:30 a.m., most parking spots in the garages are full, and you could spend up to an hour circling the lot with an entire entourage of fellow students trailing behind you, also frantically looking for a spot. While there are other lots available, the surplus amount of A and B spots, especially the ones that were obviously-painted-over S spots, seem to almost mock you as you rush to get to class on time.

In the end, however, the positives do greatly outweigh the negatives, and I would not want it any other way. UCSD has been an enriching experience thus far, and I do feel that as a commuter the school mostly caters to my needs by offering places like the commuter lounges, as well as connections for public transportation and other resources for commuters. While there is always room for improvement, I do still feel like UCSD is a good fit for me, especially given my unique situation. As I recline my chair and turn up the music in my car before walking to my first class of the day, I can’t help but feel thankful that, despite everything, I love the school I attend.

Grace Garber is a Staff Writer for The Triton.

The positions stated here do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Triton, any of its members, or any of its affiliates. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.