Four months ago I arrived in Chico, California as a stranger. This born and raised South Carolinian knew no one. I didn’t even realize Northern and Southern California were so culturally different. I was open to any opportunities and new experiences. The town and Chico State campus felt like a maze and life felt like I was living freshman year all over again. I was okay with that. New beginnings are refreshing. And it didn’t take long for the experiences to start rolling in.
This is my reflection of my semester spent in Chico, California. I got involved. I grew in my faith. I made friends and memories. I traveled. I said goodbye in the end, and hello to a new summer journey. I regret nothing, knowing California will always be a sweet, sweet memory.
A lot can happen in four months. I got involved in four different organizations and
made lasting and unique friendships in each of them. I got involved in Christian Challenge, a college ministry that has equipped college students to disciple one another and lead others to Christ. It has built community and helped students find purpose and direction. I was blessed to build special friendships through that ministry. The insight of my friend Sarah, who I met there, was refreshing and thought-provoking. In my short time in Chico, I think it is safe to say Sarah and I helped one another grow. We shared a class, Asian American studies, for which we managed to share a required book. We helped one another with Chinese (her interest sparked from a past mission trip in China, where she and a team are currently serving for a mission trip, round 2!)
Sarah’s roommate Alex, with whom another great friendship was built, challenged me in sharing the gospel. Somehow she kept me laughing. Something about her bluntness and thinking everything was awkward kept our moments together bright. Alex was the very first person I spoke to from Chico. We coordinated transportation from the airport and she and Sarah both made the 1.5 hour drive to pick up a stranger from the Sacramento Airport. As mentioned in my very first California blog, these ladies greeted me with a “Welcome Michelle Zhu” sign. If nothing is more hospitable and welcome than that, I don’t know what is. As the semester progressed, Alex instilled in me strategies and passion for sharing the gospel in practical ways. She helped me and I helped her to have confidence and to reemphasize the urgency of the matter. Alex had a major role in how God changed my perspective in sharing the gospel. I was inspired by her willingness to reach out to other women to strengthen their faith and expand the kingdom. By the way, Alex also drives a white Toyota Camry just like me. So I felt at home when I rode in her car. Alex’s bluntness, humor, and contagious passion for the Lord is missed.
I also got involved in Asian Christian Fellowship. I was eager to find out more about this group from the beginning. Soon after finding out I would be studying at Chico State in the Spring, I began my research of prospective organizations I could get involved in. Deep in the records, I came across ACF. My interest was struck right away since I do love Jesus and I do love Asians. I reached out to them and I got a response from a few student leaders
– David and Marlon. (Yeah, I’m a little proactive when it comes to starting anew and getting involved.) Once I was was able to put faces to names, it didn’t take long for me to grow to appreciate the ministry of ACF. We met at a couples’ home, who had met at ACF years ago. David was always diligent with transporting me and others every Friday night. I could sense the strong camaraderie of the community. Welcoming, family-like, and loving are prevalent descriptors of the ACF environment. Soon, I had found myself a group of friends, of all backgrounds, beliefs, and educational paths. Yet, there was a sense of acceptance and community that kept the bonds. Now, only four months later, I have a generous bundle of memories with these people to reminisce over for a lifetime.
The trip to San Francisco, since I had never been before. The late nights spent at Marlon’s and/or Lisa’s apartment just enjoying one another’s presence. We didn’t care what we were doing – the time away from our busy schedules was refreshing, whether it was games of Monopoly, mafia, Uno, random card games, learning how to play chess, or eating pizza.
Of course I can’t forget my enriching experience writing for The Orion student newspaper. I’m at the point in my undergraduate career where it is integral to be gaining hands-on experience outside of the classroom. Writing as a breaking news reporter for the Orion was THE place to do that. I gained friendships through it, especially from a road trip to a journalism conference in LA. The neatest thing, which can apply anywhere, was working among like-minded individuals, who wanted to be better. Everyday was a learning experience, for both my coworkers and our news editor, George. Of course, I knew nothing about Chico, so the beginning had its challenges. But when writing for a newspaper in a new city, the benefits outweighed the challenges. I had an inside scoop and a unique perspective on what was happening in the community. Yes, print media is a dying industry. But I believe journalism is a versatile field and good writing will remain at the core of intriguing content.
Lastly, I got involved with International Neighbors mid-semester. It is a diverse group committed to building an international community at Chico State. Every week, they have people present on their country/culture, followed by a delicious meal of the according cuisine. I learned about France, Vietnam, Brazil, and the Hmong nation. International Neighbors is welcoming of all students, American and international, as well as local community members. There was an overlap of people from ACF there as well, which was a bonus. A highlight was when I helped with the Hmong presentation and modeled traditional women’s dresses.
I also have to include a wonderful going-away gathering I had right before getting into final exams week. I decided to boldly invite my friends from each of these separate communities. A geology classmate, Lori, willingly opened up her home where fun was had. Because she has two young daughters, she was well-prepared with entertainment for a bunch of college kids. Several of my international friends experienced a trampoline for the first time. Music and food was great, but the best was having loving connections to spend time with for the last time.
I learned something in my time at Chico for the semester. I’ve been a Christian for a while now (since middle school), but I don’t recall a time when I came to a full realization that there are indeed people right next to me who don’t know Jesus or understand the same concepts I do. Growing up in a Christian home and going to church made it easy to talk about those things and be surrounded by like-minded people. Of course I knew there are millions of lost people, and I knew they were in reach. But I suppose that fact didn’t become a fathomable, heart-wrenching reality until I arrived in Chico.
Before I close, I have to point out some East-West coast differences I noticed. A barbecue in California could refer to the grilling of anything – hotdogs, hamburgers, eggplant, etc. My fellow Southerners know, however, that a BBQ refers to pulled pork. Of course, there’s the huge climate difference in humidity. The difference in dry heat in California and moist heat in the Southeast was so evident. Diversity in ethnicity is more prevalent in Cali. There’s more roundabouts on the road. Food trucks are casually placed throughout, whereas in South Carolina, we have annual food truck festivals.
A year ago, I was convinced I was not going to follow up with my plans to go to California as part of the exchange program. This was while I was studying abroad in China. To be honest, the long-distance relationship was hard and I couldn’t imagine spending a whole semester away. Thankfully, my selfless boyfriend Nereo, encouraged me to go to California because I would regret it if I didn’t go. He was so right. Even as I type this right now, I’m shocked at the possibility of me missing out on all those experiences.
The moral of the story is that I wholeheartedly believe it was God’s intent for me to boldly start fresh on the other side of the country for a whole semester. I grew stronger in my faith. I began to take the Bible more seriously (rather than seeing it as a collection of inspiring words on paper). God worked in my relationship with Nereo too, even from afar. To keep a connection going, we began a habit of going through a book of the Bible at the same time.
This is a big shoutout to God for allowing me to venture across the country for the first time. (The furthest I had been prior, was Tennessee, and China.) Shoutout to my dad for paying for my plane tickets, which allowed me to arrive there and back safely and quickly. Shoutout to my mom for being supportive and encouraging. Shoutout to the National Student Exchange Program for even existing. And of course, shoutout to Nereo for being the supportive boyfriend he’s been…AND for dropping me off and picking me up from airports more than once at this point. Here’s to finding another home on the West Coast. Be right back, Cali!