Ready to leave the small confines of Portland, Oregon, I packed my bags to embark on my cosmopolitan adventure awaiting me in Los Angeles, California. I was now Annie Wilson from “90210” — the small town girl headed for the big city. Since I was seven years old, I dreamt of palm trees and blue skies that encompassed the basking sun. Despite the bright city lights that kept me from seeing the constellations, the only stars I was exposed to were the ones on-screen. Their lives seemed glamorous, but I kept forgetting that celebrities were just normal people that ate fancier meals and probably breathed finer air than the rest of us. I just wanted to be in one’s presence, and soon enough, my wish for an “authentic” LA experience was granted.
I flew into LAX with my dad the night before my orientation at the University of Southern California, feeling like the first verse of a Miley Cyrus song. Good thing I didn't need a cardigan because sunny and 75 was the life I wanted. After a substantial dinner of In-N-Out, I mentally prepared myself for my first taste of college life.
Cereal and orange juice fueled me for the first day of orientation. Even though an overcast Los Angeles greeted me that morning, nothing could put a damper on my day. The campus was better than I had remembered it two years ago when I had my first ever college visit. High school sophomore Heran wasn't serious about making a decision yet, and USC had seemed like just another reputable university. Now incoming freshmen Heran was back to fight on. With the number of crimson and gold Snapchat geotags I had at my disposal, I had all the tools needed to showcase my college orientation experience.
After assembling in the appropriate line according to last name, I noticed the girl in front of me. My dad and I instantly felt bad for her once we noticed that her parents weren't around to help her haul her bags or just be present for a crucial moment of their daughter's freshman year. She stepped up to the student ambassador responsible for room assignments that evening and received a set of keys. The ambassador called me up right next to the girl as I received an identical set.
"You guys are going to be rooming together tonight," the ambassador declared. I turned to the girl in excitement for what was to come in the next 48 hours and she responded with a hug — a genuine hug with arms wide and bare. I experienced a culture shock as I felt right back at my high school, where hugging was considered a second language among students and faculty.
"I don't think we're in LA anymore," I whispered to my dad. She introduced herself as Laura, an unfamiliar name with a strangely familiar face. As she kept talking, I kept staring. Where have I seen this girl before, I thought. We parted our ways quickly so she could find our room and I could get my overnight bag from the car. When she was out of sight, I whipped out my phone and Googled "girl from 'Austin and Ally.'" I was right! Laura's face popped up onto my screen as I stopped in my tracks. I showed my dad, who became as starstruck as me in that moment. My orientation had not yet officially started, and I had already established that my roommate for the night was a Disney Channel celebrity.
I tried to contain my excitement before seeing Laura again. Before I could even begin to struggle with the room keys, she opened the door and continued our small talk from the registration table. My dad, too excited to even realize that he wasn't allowed in the girls dorm, motioned for me to ask about her identity.
"Not to be a stalker or anything, but are you Laura Marano from 'Austin and Ally'?" She chuckled before nodding her head. Never in my life had I been so grateful that my last name was Mamo, which was so close to Marano in the alphabet. My inundated enthusiasm returned as we simultaneously talked about her work on the show and settled into the dorm. After 20 minutes and eight selfies, we joined the other 398 incoming freshmen at orientation.
The day was filled with lectures, orientation group meetings and major-specific presentations. I felt overwhelmed by the talent and intellect I was surrounded by. Even though I knew I wasn't the only "smart" girl anymore, it reassured me that we were all new to the same institution. Feeling awkward and utterly uncomfortable was expected. All anyone could do was introduce themselves and interject conversations that they desperately wanted to be a part of.
An abrupt atmosphere was developed as random people spelled out their names for me as it suddenly appeared in my contacts. People from Vancouver, Canada feasted on churros with those from Austin, Texas. Birkenstock sandals, Converse sneakers and flip flops rested on the floor of the bustling auditorium. "Fight on!" — the school's famous slogan — echoed from the mouths of parents, incoming freshmen, band members and song girls. USC was a melting pot of geniuses from all over the world and I was right in the middle of it.
Besides sharing a dorm with an actress, another highlight of my orientation was spending time with my two high school friends from Portland. From aspiring seminars on discovering your dream career to dancing in an underground club until 1 a.m., I felt like home with the guys I had known for the last four years. Leaving roses and food carts behind for the coveted LA lifestyle wasn't such a bad idea anymore when I had people that shared the same roots as me. I felt like I was able to bring a piece of home with me to college, ringing in another four years with classmates of mine that were family.
The festivities lessened on the second day because the only big event on campus was registering for classes. As people scurried to fill up their course bin with anything after 11 a.m., I imbibed the last scene of my orientation: chill music playing in the background to contrast the anxiety of the students, academic advisers running around like mad men and furious tapping on MacBook keyboards. Everyone was nervous for the clock to strike 1:30 p.m., the time when registration officially opened. When 1:30 p.m. came around, my hovered finger over the Enter key slammed down. Within seconds of refreshing the page, I had gotten every single class I wanted, a rare occurrence that only the lucky ones relished in.
1:30 p.m. meant that I was an official USC student. 1:30 p.m. meant that I was a California resident. 1:30 p.m. meant that I was ready to let go.
Lead Image Credit: Mamo Gebrehiwot