Committing to UCLA: Site Unseen

Hello! My name is Sukai (she/her) and I am a junior majoring in applied linguistics with a double minor in cognitive science and education studies. I’m from a place in Japan called Nara, where we’re mostly known for our friendly deer who roam the streets. I wanted to share my UCLA decision process with you in hopes that it will be helpful and encouraging to know that there are people here who SIR’d without visiting campus in person. 

Three years go, when I found out that I had been accepted to UCLA, I didn’t even know that decisions were coming out that day. I was one of only two people in my high school applying to colleges overseas and I didn’t know anyone applying to schools in California. The email from UCLA arriving in my inbox completely took me by surprise. When I saw that I had been accepted, I remember screaming while I pacing in the hallway. I think that may have been a sign; although I hadn’t applied with a first choice in mind, UCLA was the only school where I had an over-the-top reaction like that. Once I was able to calm myself down, though, I was left with so many options and a looming cloud of stress as I set out to make one of the biggest decisions in my life.

Although I’m half American, I had never lived in the United States before college. I found myself weighing pros and cons for schools that I had never visited before, relying on small snapshots of what I knew of each school. The only images I had of UCLA was its brochure (which I read cover-to-cover), the website, and a vague memory of my childhood dentist who was a UCLA alum. Without having walked the campus, talked to students, and tried the dorm food, the decision feels almost impossible. I remember taking myself on virtual trips to Westwood, using UCLA’s website and Google Street View as my tour bus. I read up, watched, and listened to virtually anything about UCLA that I could find. 

By mid-April, I had spent a lot of time learning about my wants and needs in a school. I had heard back from scholarship programs and had a clearer idea of what was financially feasible for my family. I had also narrowed down what kind of social and academic environment I wanted. Something that stood out to me about UCLA, especially coming from overseas, was its universal recognition for excellence. Most of my friends and extended family did not know much about the schools I was choosing between, but they did know that UCLA was a good school (and that their stylish sweatshirts were big in Japan in the late 70s). As an undeclared student, I wanted to go to a school where no matter the academic path I chose, I would be taking classes from leaders in their fields. UCLA’s excellence is well reflected in all its rankings, award-winning faculty, and awe-inspiring athletics (nothing beats witnessing a perfect 10 at a gymnastics meet). I wanted to go somewhere where the school wasn’t just a school; it’s a culture, a lifestyle, a mindset. Being so far from home, I wanted to make sure that there was a world that I could immerse myself in and feel at home. I think I found that here. 

My first day on campus was my orientation, where I learned how much left there was to learn about UCLA. There was a small corner of my mind still worried whether I had made the right choice between schools, but the community here welcomed me with the most enthusiasm and kindness that I could have ever expected. This environment has nurtured me as I explored different fields of study, jumping around history, psychology, and ultimately landing on linguistics. The growing pains I experienced as an international student navigating a culture I thought I already knew helped me to find a circle of friends that understand my struggles and patiently help me understand schoolwork and cultural references better. 

It’s still hard seeing my parents wave goodbye with tears in their eyes as they watch their daughter cross the Pacific again, not to see her again for a long few months. Being so far away, however, I have created something here that’s completely detached with my past, something that belongs to me and only me. When I was making my pro-con lists three years ago, I would never have imagined the trips to the USC football game with my now-best friend and her grandparents, the late nights living with my roommates getting gelato, or busy days spent studying or working with some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. Every once in a while I stop and think about how much the people and culture here have challenged, comforted, and supported me. 

Making this decision as the annual Bruin Day goes online is a difficult choice, but I was right there in my bedroom in Japan, writing out my pro-con lists and clicking through Google Street View. My long, sometimes painful deliberation made my first day at UCLA just that sweeter, as I finally saw the streets I had seen so many times before, but for the first time again. The stories and legends told by older students painted the streets and buildings more vibrantly. I hope that you can join us on campus in the fall to be part of this world, tucked away in this small part of Los Angeles that I now call home.