Sweet Encounters

Dear blog readers,

I’m overwhelmed. I’ve never experienced anything like this. I don’t know if I can handle it. People in this cute college town are incredibly FRIENDLY! I’ve been in Chico for 4 days now, not even a week. It’s been one sweet encounter after the other. If only I could remember each of them specifically. It’s consisted of new friends showing me around campus, escorting me to my first class, riding the town shuttle together, initiating conversation in the hallway while waiting for Mixed Martial Arts to begin, spontaneously going to Panera at the end of the day, riding to our first newspaper staff meeting together, meeting more friends, ETC. It’s amazing. I’m overwhelmed with kindness. I’m at peace and I feel at home already. I’m free of worries and anxiety. Today after walking out of one of my classes I almost forgot I was on an unfamiliar campus in California. I felt so at ease that for some reason I expected to walk out and see my home university campus. Does this even make sense? It’s a cool feeling. Chico locals won’t let you down.
This is the part where I dig my brain full of bright memories and document my sweet encounters thus far.
The first sweet memory, as you might already know from my last post, was when I was picked up from the airport by Alex and Sarah. They greeted me with a sign reading “Welcome Michelle Zhu”.
Brittany and her husband, who are on staff at Christian Challenge, opened up their home to me until University Village, my apartment, opened up. In my stay at their home, I joined Brittany and Cody on my first-time Costco shopping experience. I now have wheat bread, avocados and 3-bean Mediterranean salad in bulk to last me awhile.
I had a kickoff breakfast with the Orion Student Newspaper. Turns out one of the girls, Amelia, in the Breaking News section with me also lives at University Village. So she offered to drive both of us back so I could see what it looked like in person since I had time to kill. She then took me to Starbucks since she had to go back to her hometown of Sacramento to babysit for the weekend. I spent the afternoon sipping a Green Tea Latte, being productive on my laptop, and people watching. A couple hours later it was time for orientation for exchange students. On my way there I ran into a friend of mine, Lo who I actually met in my study abroad program in China last summer. That was neat. At orientation I met a small group of other students from New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee (she fearlessly says “yall”!), Puerto Rico (she only planned to stay last Fall but her friend convinced her to stay a full year), and Wisconsin (he drove 29 hours here!).
One of the staff members of exchange gave a “Chico 101” presentation. Following that I had a better idea of where the large cities are geographically located, things to do in the local region, modes of transportation, and history of Chico. I had to laugh, though. Obviously my main deciding factor to come to Chico State was to experience California for the first time. The man giving this presentation spoke on how he grew up in California. He ended up coming back to Chico for a job offer. He accepted coming back to Chico because it was one small town unlike the rest of stereotypical California. Haha…

The vibe here is so different. There’s restaurants and stores SC is lacking, and vice versa. Some people have never heard of Hardee’s, yet they have Carls Jr.’s here and it blows my mind, I can’t stop talking about it.

I’m building new friendships I would have otherwise not made on the other end. Just thinking about going from coast to coast is exciting. I’m bound to explore outside sites as well.
After National Student Exchange orientation, the coordinator James took a few of us to dinner to enjoy pizza and company. Later that night I would be returning to the same restaurant, Woodstock Pizza, for Sarah’s birthday party. That’s right. Ya girl was already invited to a birthday party. Now that’s how you start a semester at a college in a completely unfamiliar place. And it was great. Despite my confused sleep schedule from the jet lag, I had to smile to myself when I was introduced to so many welcoming faces. Alex literally walked me around to every table and introduced me personally to each person. Maybe a bit overwhelming, but my extrovert self loved it. It was a big family of young people, all involved at Christian Challenge and currently or once did go to Chico State.
The next day I was able to move into my apartment. My roommates are all sweet freshmen. Funny how I was once an Orientation Leader answering questions for all first-year students coming into USC. Now it’s the opposite; these freshman girls are answering all my questions as I transition to CSU. My roommate, born in Texas, raised in California, is an Ag major. She rides her horse everyday. She owns camo jackets and a Duck Dynasty themed gun safe for storage. She listens to country music. There’s also tons of Agriculture majors here. I’ve probably met at least 5. And I’ve met 2 animal science majors. It’s almost like I never left the South. In the words of boyfriend Nereo “you just went to a west coast version of Clemson”. Life’s funny. She and her parents are also the only one’s I’ve met here who have heard of the Carolina Gamecocks (my school mascot) since her cousin graduated from USC (not Southern Cal, as I’ve realized I have to clarify). That was cool to find out. I also should add that I returned to the apartment in one of these late days to see this welcome sign written on our door by Ashley:

IMG_0618  How stinkin sweet!!
Brittany, being the transportation coordinator at Challenge, arranged for a recent Chico grad, David to pick me up for Chico Community Church the next day. Church was great. I saw a lot of familiar faces from Sarah’s birthday party the other night. Apparently a lot of students from Christian Challenge also attend that church. It’s a big family. I re-met Melinda, a freshman who I discovered lives a couple complexes down from me. We, along with another girl Jen, decided to go grocery shopping at WinCo after church. (much needed!) Let me tell you. That shopping experience was like no other. I made my own peanut butter from a nut crushing machine! (for lack of a better term)

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After shopping and dropping off groceries, Melinda’s friend Sierra joined us and we went on an unofficial tour. I had 3 personal tour guides, 3 more new friends. They were a huge, sweet help.
Now we’re caught up to current time, Monday, the first day of school. It’s been a great first day of classes. Sierra, from yesterday, met me at the bus stop and escorted me to my first class, since I’m self-diagnosed directionally impaired.

My first class, Geology of California, was a small intimidating lab class. But I soon found myself conversing with Angie, a junior sitting next to me. It was actually a large class! Ah, how weird. To show how much larger the University of South Carolina is, there are 10 min gaps in between classes at Chico State. There are 20 min gaps at USC. Angie couldn’t believe it when I told her we have up to 300 student lecture classes back home. I’m definitely getting a glimpse of the small college life.
In the land of fruits and nuts, I found an orange tree. I wanted so bad to pick one and eat it. But I didn’t want to be accused of trespassing, ya know?


My next highlight of the day was Mixed Martial Arts class. I love it already! My instructor knows his stuff. He has taught in all continents and has students in 120 countries. He promised to have each of us in the best shape of our life by the end of this semester. I love having that kind of confidence.
I tried the one dining location on campus today, Sutter. Most of the student reviews I had gotten of the place have been negative. Yea, it wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t terrible. Apparently there was an incident last semester in which a salamander was found in a student’s salad? The things you learn in a newspaper office…

Anyways, at the cafe I ran into Jen, the same girl who I went grocery shopping with the other day. She introduced me to 2 more of her friends who also know a few others I met at church. 4 days, and my community is growing and the world feels even smaller.
I’m done with my Monday classes and I’ve got my phone map out, making my way back to my apartment. I look over andIMG_0619 I see Amelia, from the Orion newspaper in her car! Yesss. I’m running into people I know. Feels like home. She rolls down her window and asks if I want to go to Panera with her and her roommate and then ride to our newspaper staff meeting together later. I couldn’t give up that offer! So here I am spontaneously going to Panera with Amelia and her roommate. I got a delicious large iced green tea.
On my way back to my apartment, I ran into roommate Ashley. She was on her way to Jamba Juice and asked if I wanted anything. Due to the large green tea in my hand, I had to turn down an epic offer. No worries, though. I will make an appearance at this great Jamba Juice the south is deprived of soon.
We make it to our staff meeting later. I’m feeling good about this newspaper and getting to know the fellow students I’m breaking news with. An editor asked me to turn one of my briefs into a story already, which is good news. I’m meeting with her tomorrow during my break. I’m also meeting with a career counselor about journalism internships just for kicks.
A lot has happened in 4 days. On top of everything, I’ve received several encouraging messages from my new friends (of course I had to crop and arrange them in a layout because it makes me so happy):

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I can’t even imagine what God’s got planned on this trip for the next 4 months. Long story short, I’ve truly enjoyed my time here so far. It’s bound to grow in memories and new experiences. Life’s kinda cool, guys. There’s so much to smile about.

Also, my roommate found a cat.

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Until Next Time,

MZ

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