Bobcat Day turned out to be one of the most important days in Isabella Mitchell's life. Her experience at UC Merced's open house event in April 2022 assured her that she belonged at the newest UC campus — so much so that she submitted her Statement of Intent to Register that afternoon.
Fast-forward one year. Mitchell said she trusted her instincts back then, and that decision continues to benefit her as her first year winds down. Still, challenges have crept in, and emotions have tested her. But what she's learned in and out of the classroom has helped her in more ways than she could have imagined.
The Big Move North
Preparing to move from Lynwood to Merced took more than stocking up on school supplies and dorm must-haves. Mitchell said beginning on Bobcat Day, the university detailed exactly what she would and would not need, though she admitted she over-prepared by buying too many notebooks.
What she was not ready for was the mental preparation. She knew she was about to leave her parents, four younger siblings and friends, so she made it a point to spend as much time as possible with them during the summer.
The next step Mitchell took was contacting her soon-to-be roommate, who hailed from Southern California as well. She joked that they would either be the best of friends or hate each other. Luckily, she said, they "clicked" right away.
With the U-Haul packed, Mitchell and her family hopped on the freeway and ventured into the Central Valley. That's when reality started to sink in.
"I knew when my parents drove back there was going to be one less kid in the car," she said. "It was very emotional because I kept thinking I'm not going back with them."
But she kept thinking about the highly anticipated adventure that was in store. That calmed her nerves a bit.
Move in and Goodbyes
The family's trip to Merced consisted of touring the city and campus, taking a lot of photos with the Beginnings sculpture, enjoying waffles for breakfast and setting up Mitchell in her dorm. There wasn't a sea of students moving in when she arrived, which made the process much easier. Planning ahead and arriving early took away the stress.
The easy part was done. Next it was time for the most difficult part about moving away: the goodbyes.
"My dad was not looking at me in the eye. He was emotional, and we hugged," Mitchell said. "My brother also hugged me, and I don't remember the last time he had hugged me. Then my mom hugged me, and I saw that she was crying, and it made me teary-eyed because I didn't know when I would see them again."
Her family waved goodbye and started the drive back home. Mitchell walked to her dorm room and pulled out her cellphone, but she didn't use it to call or text them.
"I had my sister's location on my phone, so I was in my dorm watching them drive back home," she said. "It was super sad. I was like, 'They're leaving without me.'"
Mitchell knew she had to remember the reasons she was at UC Merced. She thought back to Bobcat Day and re-envisioned the excitement she felt that day. She and her roommate quickly met other first-year students while venturing out to campus-sponsored events. She tried to keep busy and immerse herself in as many experiences as possible.
When asked how she got through the first few days, Mitchell responded, "You just have to take it one day at a time and put yourself out of your comfort zone. Be the person that goes out of the way to say 'hi' and ask, 'how's your day?' That's how I made most of my friends."
She made even more friends through the Living Learning Community (LLC) she's a part of and the leadership events it hosted, including a clean-up event at Lake Yosemite.
"The LLC provided me with a lot of connections, so joining one of those could be beneficial to anybody," she said.
Mitchell's first class was a sociology course. It had been her plan to study sociology; after the first few days in the class, she knew she definitely wanted to major in it.
"Professor Kyle Dodson was very interactive and made it fun to learn about sociology," she said. "Although there was a lot of reading, it felt very natural, and I loved learning about it."
But not everything went according to plan — at least, not initially. Mitchell said she started feeling homesick very quickly, which affected her studies.
"It was definitely a wake-up call," she said. "This is not high school. It was a huge change for me."
Mitchell didn't earn a great score on her first quiz, but she reached out for help. She emailed her professor and set up a meeting to go over how she could improve. She soon realized she had to change her study methods.
"I am much more organized now," she said. "I don't feel as stressed as I did my first semester because now I have a bunch of organizing apps and calendars to keep myself organized. That's definitely what I was lacking."
To help her not miss home as much, she makes it a point to talk and text with her family often and visits every few weeks as well.
The thought of having classes later in the day seemed very attractive. However, Mitchell said she had to have a tough conversation with herself — something she encourages other students to do.
"Listen to your gut. I knew I wanted later classes my first semester, so I didn't have to wake up early in the morning," she said. "But it ended up working against me. I didn't want to go to my evening classes. It was late, and all my friends were done with their classes by that time.
"I was like, 'Isabella, do you really want to be in class until 7 p.m.?' I didn't want to wake up for a morning class, and now I wake up for my 8:30 a.m. class. In everything you do, you just have to listen to yourself and stick to it. Do what works best for you."
Universities have started sending out their acceptance letters, which means students have to make difficult decisions over the next few months. As this year's Bobcat Day approaches, Mitchell hopes students will visit and consider UC Merced.
"I love this university," she said. "I really like being here and the people here. It's just a good environment. My advice to new students is to check it out and experience everything because UC Merced has a lot to offer."