I crawled into bed. The two roommates I had met four weeks ago breathed quietly in their sleep. Loneliness enveloped me with the darkness. I don’t belong here, I miss everyone, I hate this awful city air. I want my High Sierra home back. I cried to myself under the covers before lulling off into a somber sleep, feeling hopeless of surviving the transplant back to main campus life.
Last semester had been a dream come true; even before I set foot on campus as a freshman, High Sierra was in my study abroad plan. Joining 39 other students to live in Bass Lake to study the Humanities, adventure in Yosemite, and wear flannel shirts and hiking boots as much as I pleased sounded like an ideal college experience for me.
By the end of those three and a half months, I found myself amazed at how fast my fellow students and I formed a family-like community and how much I grew individually. Together, we backpacked through 20-something sweaty miles of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, strained our minds through intense academics, broke down and cried over the pains of life, and laughed ourselves sore at all the moments in between. I learned how to adventure, how to be a scholar, and how to make friendships by trusting people enough to share my life stories with them and then listen to theirs. But winter quickly caught up with summer, and soon after the leaves fell from the oak trees, we left to move back to our “normal” college lives.
I expected my return to the main campus to feel just like any other time of transition. I trusted my adaptability. I felt excited to reconnect with friends, to move into an apartment, to go on beach trips, to ride freely around the town on my longboard. I barely read the email of suggestions for coping with “re-entry” struggles that the Study Abroad Office sent out.
By the second week of going through the motions of school, I began wondering what was wrong with me.
Instead of enjoying my classes and tackling homework with the usual I-am-such-an-honors-student attitude, I felt mechanical every time I went to class. I didn’t know my professors and they didn’t know me—none of them were going to sit at the same dinner table with me after class, take me and my friends mountain-biking, or write a heartfelt poem for the entire class. Homework seemed more like a chore rather than a mental workout; I missed the tough conceptual questions the texts challenged us with to apply to present-day life.
I dreaded coming home to my apartment after class to receive either an awkward “Hey” from one of my roommates or just the blank quiet of a place void of memories. I used to be unable to escape from a friendly face. Instead of eating every meal with my big family in the dining hall, I found myself eating alone on my roommate’s shabby living room couch, either staring at the walls or occupying myself with homework.
Few of my non-High Sierra friends asked about my experiences or how my adjustment fared, so I began to subconsciously rate the quality of my days by how many people from High Sierra I had a chance to hug or say “Hi” to as I traveled between classes. I made a playlist of all the songs that reminded me of last semester and listened to it religiously. I started running around the track at night to stare at the moon, to forget how uprooted I felt, and escape from the bombardments of everything demanding my attention,.
By the fourth week of school, one of my friends asked if I wanted to go visit High Sierra and see our friends that were attending the Spring semester—two of which also attended Fall semester. I packed up my sleeping bag and wolf shirts.
When I stepped out of the car into the brisk mountain air and saw stars in the sky for the first time since December, I felt my spirit say “Welcome home.” Then my friends and I ran up the steps to the dining hall to find our friends and hug them as tight as possible. My body trembled from all the emotions of anticipation, nervousness, and happiness and my face began to hurt from smiling so much.
The presence of seventeen alumni of Fall ’11 made the place feel even more like home, especially as we sat around the dining hall tables at the end of each night, laughing and sipping hot drinks as if we had never left. Some of us wore the tank tops we had ordered to wear at the concerts for our personal five-guy hardcore band, “We Are Ansel.” On Saturday, some of us hit up the local thrift stores and the family-owned coffee shop in Oakhurst while others rock climbed in Yosemite. Later, a familiar study session took place around the little furnace in the meeting hall. After dinner, a big group of alumni went to a professor’s house just to hang out and eat ice cream.
After church the next morning, I found myself saying goodbye again to my friends and the sweet-smelling pine trees. As we drove over the Grapevine pass into L.A., resentment churned inside me, followed by the deep sadness that caused me to cry myself to sleep that night.
But the next morning, I had to wake up, eat breakfast, and go to class. Longboarding over the white sidewalk wasn’t much like feeling the wood and dirt under my bare feet, but the breeze and warm sun against my face felt good. On Wednesday, I met a bunch of girl friends for lunch, and it felt like an ordinary High Sierra meal—though in a different context. I began to wake up to the idea that if I missed my community so much and wanted to grow in those relationships, I could find ways to deal with it. As I continued to experience little reunions with people, my motivation increased to make my semester back at APU worth the struggle.
I started with designating a meeting place to eat lunch together on Mondays and Wednesdays, and determined that this semester should have as much adventure as the last, I made a list of all the activities to plan—beach trip included. For the upcoming weekend, I organized a hike up a local trail, followed by a homemade brunch.
My friends seemed to catch the fever, and my days started filling up with activities—a Pasadena trip, a Titanic movie night, pancake breakfast, game night, and a big almost-all-nighter at one of the senior’s houses. Four other girls and I now meet once a week for a Bible study, and the guys’ band We Are Ansel is scheduled to play at a benefit concert on campus.
One day as I was leaving the gym, I passed the High Sierra representative that helped connect me with the program a year ago. I related to her how I was doing, and she smiled, saying:
“Yeah—it definitely takes a while to get used to, but you’ll get there.”
I may never “get over” my feelings for High Sierra; my roots grew strong there. But now I am able to prove my adaptability—not by ignoring the heartache, but by finding my way to flourish in spite of it. Facing the challenge to take the time to foster stronger connections with my friends has resulted exactly in what I wanted in the first place—strong relationships and exciting adventures. My High Sierra experience didn’t just end in December; it continues as long as the friendships keep growing, as I keep learning, and as the adventures keep coming. There my heartache finds remedy, and everything that High Sierra called me to be lives on.