From Northern Virginia to Southern California: A Student Perspective


Photo provided by Petra Jasper

Arnav Kumar

As college decisions begin rolling in, seniors accepted to multiple colleges must begin to weigh their options, which can be an overwhelming process given that college represents four of the most important years of their lives. One of the biggest factors that goes into this process is location; for many students, a great distance from home can often be daunting and intimidating.

Freedom graduates Petra Jasper and Cameron Roper, who both attend school in Los Angeles, can attest to the difficulties that stem from moving across the nation and enrolling at a university in a completely different environment.

“I think that the experience of going to college, regardless of where, is jarring,” Roper said. “The only difference about moving across the country is there’s no reprieve if you do want to go home for a weekend, or even for Thanksgiving. I didn’t make it home until winter break and that was a long time. It’s definitely hard to be away from your entire life and leaving that behind.”

While Jasper’s parents were with her during every step of the move, she felt similarly isolated from her life back on the east coast.

“It has been hard being so far away from my friends and family mainly because of the time difference,” Jasper said. “I found it more difficult to communicate because the timing made it so that I might be in class or doing sports while my friends have class or vice versa.”

Despite these worries, both Freedom graduates have found the University of Southern California and Occidental College to be welcoming environments and continue to try to keep in touch with their life back home. After their first semester in Los Angeles, they have both learned how to feel comfortable being a five-hour plane ride from Northern Virginia.

“My friends and I would try to Skype once every two weeks, and we send tweets to each other all the time just to keep the relationship immediate,” Roper said. “One thing we did was we made a joint playlist on Spotify and we add any song that is relevant to our lives for any reason. It’s really cool because there’ll be like classical study music next to Arctic Monkeys, and we get an insight into each other’s mood even though we are all in different places leading different lives.”

Moreover, Jasper is thankful to Occidental for making Los Angeles seem like home in less than half a year.

“Even though Occidental is across the country, the school made me feel safe, academically challenged, and personally challenged without making me feel like I couldn’t handle being on my own,” Jasper said.

After getting past initial fears and used to being away from home, Jasper and Roper began to embrace all of the differences between Los Angeles and South Riding. Whether it be being exposed to different perspectives or simply enjoying the weather in Southern California, Jasper and Roper have ensured to make the most of their valuable time in a radically different environment.

“The biggest difference between the areas specifically LA and South Riding is that to me South Riding felt like a bubble: a space that is easy to ignore greater problems or be sheltered from the problems,” Jasper said. “[Los Angeles] feels more like a place where problems are noticed and exposed so people can learn about them and fix them.”

However, Roper actually appreciates Southern California for its more liberal lifestyle that can be more stress-free than the workaholic environment of Northern Virginia.

“[Southern California] is definitely very different than home,” Roper said.” It’s a lot more laid back and relaxed which I think makes the differences easier to adjust to, compared to the very northeast rapid stress of home.”

Both Roper and Jasper agree that one of the greatest parts to attending school in Los Angeles is the wide variety of people that are not as represented back at home. While Northern Virginia is a very diverse area, Los Angeles attracts a wider variety of international students than in-state schools such as the University of Virginia due to its premier location and global recognition.

“I have international friends from Korea and Japan, and I’ve met people from all around the country,” Roper said. “It’s actually my favorite thing about being at [the University of Southern California], the fact that every person you talk to brings a bit of their home with them and yet we all share an intangible quality of being home at school.”

“There are so many different types of people coming together with so many different stories that it is impossible to not have been exposed to new perspectives,” Jasper said.

After going through the process of moving across the country, Roper and Jasper understand fears that students may have, but would encourage kids at Freedom to be unafraid of making the big move.

“Don’t let anything hold you back. Honestly, everyone will have a jarring experience coming to college, the distance doesn’t make it any harder or easier,” Roper said. “I think the most important thing is the pick a community that makes YOU feel at home, and that doesn’t mean look far away or close for the sake of being far away or close–I honestly think the location is kind of irrelevant when you find where you’re meant to be.”

“My advice is that question yourself and what you truly want in a school and the environment around it and you will be able to overcome any obstacles,” Jasper said. “In the end, your decision for which school you go to may be daunting, but fear should not overcome the excitement of actually going to the school.”