College journal: Swapping cardinal and gold for orange

Jesus Vargas and Luis Moctezuma recently said goodbye to South Los Angeles and hello to college — far off at Syracuse University in New York. Both had learned digital skills through classes at South L.A.’s TxT (formerly URBAN TxT), a nonprofit that works with inner-city boys to develop tomorrow’s technology leaders, and hope to one day bring change to their communities. To do that, they’re first going across the country. (And now rooting for the Syracuse Orange football team instead of cardinal-and-gold USC Trojans.)  Check back for updates from Vargas and Moctezuma’s journal chronicling the challenges and rewards of attending college far from home.


Oscar Menjivar, in orange, accompanied Jesus and Luis to get settled at Syracuse.

Thoughts before arrival

Jesus: The closer I got to college, the more people wanted to talk about it. Everyone wanted to know if I was ready, excited or nervous. My generic response was, “Yes, I’m excited.” But the truth is that I wasn’t really thinking about school. When I graduated from high school I felt as if I had just taken a deep breath after completing a tedious task; the last thing I wanted to think about was the next step of my educational journey.

As my summer in Los Angeles came to an end, my schedule began to fill up and I realized college was right around the corner. Before I knew it, I had to be at my convocation from ten to twelve and I had a floor meeting from six to eight. My first collegiate activities were planned for me before I arrived on campus. The idea of starting fresh fascinated me and the thought of orange blood running through my veins brought out my inner mascot. I ultimately left Los Angeles with eagerness and without much thought of what I was leaving behind.

Luis: “Am I ready? What’s going to happen? I should be fine…right?” These thoughts were just some of the batch that laid in my head. It didn’t really hit me that I was leaving home, everything I was familiar with and knew, to come to a new place that I would have to call home for a while. When people asked if I was ready, I wouldn’t know how to respond, but I would always say that I was, when really, I had no idea. I didn’t fully grasp the idea that I was moving across the country. Even when I was on the freeway heading to the airport, checking-in my bags, boarding the plane, it still didn’t hit me that I was moving away. The truth is that throughout the summer I hadn’t really been thinking about school as much as I probably should have. Part of me actually just wanted the summer to last forever. I was enjoying myself, not worrying about school too much. I was living the summer life, but as the day of my flight came closer and closer, it felt like there was a countdown on my days of freedom and joy.

Now it kind of sounds like I wasn’t looking forward to coming to Syracuse, but the reality is that it hadn’t really been a main thought in my mind. The only times that I would think about it was when people would ask me questions about the school and my stance on moving so far away. I actually didn’t like talking about it too much. It was the idea of going away that frightened me just a bit. Was it worth leaving everything behind and starting on a new slate in a new world? I would always ask myself that question. I didn’t know what to expect or really had an idea of what I getting myself into. I didn’t have any real expectations, only hopes. One of those hopes was hoping that I was prepared and ready to be in the shoes of an Orangeman.

The football field at Syracuse.

The football field at Syracuse.

Immediate reactions

Jesus: My arrival in Syracuse began with the view of beautiful dark clouds that undoubtedly held a few of hours worth of rain; it didn’t take long for the water to make its way down from the sky. Welcome to Syracuse.

As I approached campus, I had little to no expectations. I was just ready take whatever was thrown my way. When Luis and I arrived at our residence hall and began to take our belongings upstairs, everyone around us was incredibly nice to us, a little too nice in my opinion. I found the way in which the upperclassmen and the staff were talking to me to be condescending. Throughout high school I considered myself to be a leader and I often learned from others simply through observation, not by being explained things as if I were a child. Luckily for me, I had my long time friend and mentor, Oscar Menjivar, with me to talk about the thoughts I had going through my mind. Oscar was an RA during his time in college so when I told him about the way I thought I was being treated, he told me that they were just trying to make me feel comfortable. I trusted his opinion and just hoped that the way in which I was being treated would change when classes began.

See also: Teen tech leaders compete in Demo Day 2014

Luis: The plane has landed, we get off, and grab our luggage. Next step: drive off to Syracuse University. The drive is a beautiful short trip in which wepassed the long ocean-like fields of green. This was enough to distract me from that fact that I was on my way to move into a new temporary home in a new area. At that point, one would think that it has finally hit me; the idea that I am not home anymore. I won’t lie. It felt like I was just on vacation.

We arrive on campus and okay, it’s a pretty nice campus. That’s what I think as the elevator is bringing us to our floor. Others seem to be settled in, meanwhile there are others in our same position, thinking of who is taking what side of the room. The room itself is okay. At this point I realize that I am in the “okay” stage. (This is something I just thought of.) The stage in which everything just appears so fast and the only response or description you can think of is “Okay.” I slowly realized that this wasn’t something I was totally used to. Yes, I would be living with my good friend Jesus, but where’s everybody else? “So how long is this vacation going to last?” I still thought to myself. Overall, I felt blank just trying to absorb all the flyers, pamphlets, and welcoming words from the RAs (Residential Advisors). It felt like going back to kindergarten; I was afraid, lost, and blank.

Week 1

Jesus: On my first day of college, I realized that the ‘first day of school feeling’ is something that exists even outside of grade school. I woke up that morning feeling utter joy for learning and excited to kick off the day. I began the day with a lecture on technology that had over two hundred people in attendance. As the professor went over what we would learn throughout the semester, I quickly realized that I didn’t belong there. Everything that I was expected to learn throughout the semester I had already learned after taking part of URBAN TxT.

As crazy as this may sound, after my first day of college I already wanted to switch my major. Like most students, I came to college with the intention of wanting to learn new things. It didn’t take long for me to feel as if I wouldn’t be able to do that under the current program that I was in. As the week went by I met all of my professors and I was fairly comfortable with what was expected of me in all of my classes.

Socially, I still wasn’t doing so well during my first week of school. I don’t consider myself to be a shy person but my actions were showing otherwise. Other than a couple of guys that live on my floor, I didn’t know anyone else on campus. This was primarily bothering me because everyone else seemed to be making friends left and right. I wanted to talk to new people but I just didn’t know how to do it. All my life I went to the same K-12 school and grew up with the same group of friends. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt uncomfortable within my own school. My social life didn’t change during my first week of school but I had hope that it would soon make that long-awaited change.

Luis: It’s the first day of school and I am up and at it. I wake up for my 8:25 a.m. class, Intro to Art Photography. You would think “Finally kid! You’re into it! It’s finally hit you!” Sorry, not yet. I still feel blank. Yes, no doubt there’s excitement within me; attending courses that are toward my Film major, finally working with what I love. Yet, the blank, lost feeling is still pounding within me. My social behavior doesn’t really help with it either. I should try to bond withmy floor mates, especially when everyone is hanging out in our floor lobby area. I simply just walk by and go straight to my dorm. I put some music on, sit on my bed, and look out of our dorm window to stare out at the view of the grey-blue sky and the grassy field down below. It’s not that I didn’t like the people on my floor. If anything, they seemed like a welcoming social bunch. There would be times when I wanted to approach the social scenario and mingle, but I would decide to retreat back into my ghost lair.

I just wanted to be a ghost. Avoid any ties that could possibly distract me from getting my work done. The idea of trying to stay in touch with my loved ones already seemed distracting, so why add another bag to the batch. I guess you can say that I was someone filled with bittersweet feelings. I felt this way for the rest of the week. Lost in a world of orange, dreams, and reality checks. 

An average day on campus at Syracuse.

An average day on campus at Syracuse.

Week 2

Jesus: Academically, my second week of school was a drastic change. I followed my desire to change my major. I changed my path from one that led to a major in Information Management, to a path that will lead me to a major in Communications Design.

Everything that I became slightly familiar with during my first week of school was now gone. My schedule changed, I had to learn how to get to new buildings, and I was around a completely different group of people; it was the first week of school all over again. I felt as if I had the opportunity to do everything I wish I‘d done during my first week, so I did just that. I talked to the people who I sat next to. I greeted people as I opened the door. Coincidently, I finally began to make new friends!

Luis: Things seem to be getting better. I’ve actually already turned in some assignments and even a little thing like that is allowing me to feel like I belong to something bigger. It’s a good feeling raising my hand in class discussing the readings and asking questions. I won’t say that I’m totally comfortable here in Syracuse, but I will say that I’m making progress in adjusting to the idea of being away from home.

I’ve recently decided to hang out with some floor mates in the lobby area and it turns out I have a lot in common with some of these kids. The idea of being a total ghost began to bother me. Although there are moments that I decide to be a ghost, I push myself to be known and make new friends and at least try to begin dwelling into that full college experience. 

Jesus, Luis and Oscar at Niagra Falls, before settling into the dorms.

Jesus, Luis and Oscar at Niagra Falls, before settling into the dorms.

Where we stand

Jesus: After two weeks of learning new handshakes, switching majors and meeting new people, I’m finally feeling more at home. The cross-country transition that I’ve had to make definitely hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be. I’ve had to put my guard down, make myself vulnerable, so that I could adapt to my new environment. It’s only natural to come into college and immediately gravitate to what you already know whether it’s skin color, gender or interests. But I have found that it wasn’t until I explored the unknown that I felt more comfortable in my new home.

Luis: It’s only been two weeks so far, but it feels as if I’ve been here for so long already. Time seems to be moving faster some days and slower other days. Where do I stand? I like to ask myself that very same question every day. It changes every morning I wake and every night I sleep. I guess I can say that I’m still a fresh adventurer in a new chapter of my life; not really a vacation anymore. It’s only the beginning of my journey, so I can only imagine what’s to come. I can’t always be the ghost that I started off as. I have to rise from this stage and be the journey-man that I am.

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