“You know how a dog is when he sees something and he’s happy and he’s wagging his tail furiously, but he doesn’t really know what’s going on? Freshman year, that’s the exact feeling I had.”
— Corbin Gomez
Every fall young people have a life-changing experience that will always be associated with Davis, California: first year of college. In the late 1960’s, my husband was one of them.
“I lived in Tercero the second year after it was built,” he said recently. “Sometimes we smelled the cows.”
His mild language proves that memory softens things. Here’s a recent account of the bovine experience from Corbin Gomez, who was assigned last fall to the same residence hall.
“Open the door, and you’re hit by this wall, this rancid … ugh. That was my first big thing: It smells bad.” I thought, “OK, whatever, I’m glad to be here.”
Nine months later, he says, “You know how smells trigger memory? When I smell cows now, even away from campus, I think of school.”
I first interviewed Corbin during his senior year of high school in El Dorado County when he won a poetry recitation contest. A few months later I heard he was coming to UC Davis.
He’s an articulate young man. What could he tell me about being a freshman in Davis, California?
Our town doesn’t play a big part in the experience. We plan special events for new college students, but because making friends was uppermost in Corbin’s mind, he stuck to campus activities.
He sampled a restaurant or two but didn’t take a good look at downtown Davis until Picnic Day. I believe he would have studied Davis more closely if he were hunting for sophomore digs, but he’ll be staying in the dorms next year as a resident advisor.
Since he didn’t say much about Davis, I’ll focus on what was most important to Corbin — as it was to me as a freshman — making friends.
First comes the moment of parental departure.
“We said our goodbyes in the parking lot. My mom and my sister were crying and I’m like, ‘Oh, man, what am I going to do here?’ You look at them as they drive away. You turn around and you’re greeted by all the dorms and all the buildings and stuff and it’s like, ‘Where do I begin?’ ”
I don’t know if Corbin saw the tears in my eyes as I listened.
Then he described the first minutes, alone in his dorm room, wondering what to do next.
“I put my things down and opened my door. The first person I saw was in the hallway sitting in her chair doing something. And I was like, ‘You: let’s go.’ We walked around and all of a sudden doors were opening. Then everybody was in the hallway, just talking and having a great time.
“You make those quick bonds with everybody. We all went to dinner together, the entire floor, and that was awesome.”
The first week had its rough moments as well, when a good portion of the new students partied hard, leaving non-drinkers like Corbin to negotiate some difficult terrain.
Corbin stayed behind, a practice he continues today. “I’ll be 100 percent honest. Sometimes it feels really bad. The thing about being alone in that moment is that you don’t realize that other people are also alone.” Eventually he learned that partiers would befriend him, whether he drank or not. He also connected with other non-drinkers.
Welcome Week was such a powerful experience that Corbin wants to be a resident advisor to do it right for future students.
As fall quarter progressed, Corbin turned Tercero Hall, cows and all, into home. He became so attached that, although he happily spent winter break with his family, he missed his new life.
“I just wanted to go back and throw the garbage away when I wanted to throw the garbage away, to be independent, I guess.”
When he returned to Davis for winter quarter, friendship became the main issue again, as Corbin realized he had made some good choices and some not so good.
“Do I really like these people?” he asked himself. “Or was I just excited to meet somebody new?” He missed his high school friends, the “people who really understood me.”
Fortunately, Davis has a gift for anyone who suffers a blue winter: early spring, which worked its magic on Corbin. Happy and expansive now, he is thrilled to be finishing his first year, rough moments past, transition accomplished, adventures ahead.
As he sums up his experience, I’m thinking he could major in philosophy. (Wrong. Computer science.)
“When you’re a seventh-grader,” he says, “You try to be cool and act like an eighth-grader. In eighth grade, you try to act like a high schooler. Same in college. Everyone tries to act cool, tries to act like college students, when in actuality we’re just scared high schoolers. It’s after the first year when we can really call ourselves college students: we’ve made the cycle.
“For me, lows came from making unrealistic expectations about people around me. For others, lows might come from academics. Everybody has some bad times and some good times, but that’s college and that’s life.”
I hope to check in with Corbin next year.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org