A Tale of Two Cities: My Reality and Experience as a Commuter Student

For four years, I have lived a tale of two cities, literally.

At 6:45 a.m. on a weekday, while most college students are still in bed or perhaps hitting the snooze button for the fourth time, I am on the road. I am beginning my 40-mile commute from home to UC Davis, driving between rice fields, past the Sacramento International Airport, over the Yolo Causeway, and across three separate counties and highways. It is a one-hour commute—as long as there aren’t any accidents, flooding, closed roads, or the occasional 18-wheeler engulfed in flames. What is life without a few surprises, right?

On the road, I am just one of many faceless commuters, trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as I can, but among the 30,066 undergraduates at UC Davis, I am a rarity. I am what you can call a commuter student. And in a university awarded the title of Platinum Bicycle Friendly University, where there are more bikes than people at times, it isn’t difficult feeling like the odd one out.

Most people I meet call me crazy when I tell them about my daily commute. Between raised eyebrows and furrowed foreheads, they say, “I don’t know how you do it” or “Why don’t you just live in Davis?” Reactions range from expressions of curiosity to that of judgment. With my part-time job, helping my parents, and school, sometimes I think to myself, “Yeah, I don’t know how I do it either.”

But despite the early mornings, late night drives, and the constant pull between my school life and my home life, I wouldn’t change a thing. Okay, maybe I would change some things. I mean, who wants to wake up at 5:30 a.m. for an 8 a.m. class?

There are plenty of pros to commuting: homecooked meals, free housing, the privacy and comforts of my own room, the freedom to travel wherever I want, and, of course, time with family. But then there are the cons: the early mornings, the 10-15 hours spent driving each week, the cultural mismatch, the missed opportunities, and the commute itself, among other things.

The decision to commute to and from college was decided the moment I said I was going to UC Davis. It was an unspoken agreement—one that meant saying goodbye to dorm life, to late nights at the dining commons, to roommates I’d never meet, to countless social gatherings, and to being able to wake up only 15 minutes before class started. Everything that people typically associate with the “college experience” essentially disintegrated before I even stepped foot on campus.

As a first-generation college student, I barely even knew what that meant. I just knew I wanted to make the most of my time in college.

Over the years, that has meant numerous 14-hour days spent solely on campus—sometimes several in a row. There have been days when I’ll arrive by 7:30 a.m., have five hours of classes and office hours, four to five hours of work, three different meetings, a quick lunch date with friends, and just enough time to get a bit of studying done before going home at 9:30 p.m. I blame my own self for this.

It started out with going to club meetings whenever I could during my freshman year, getting a job at our Health Professions Advising Center during my sophomore year, and adding on more and more after that. I had and still have what my wonderful boss and mentor likes to call “the Davis fever”: the feeling of needing to do everything possible. I admit, it is draining. Some days I will come back home and simply pass out. I try to study whenever I can and make time for friends and family, but things do not always work out as neatly as my calendar, color-coded in shades of blue, purple, and yellow, makes it out to be—they usually don’t. I have certainly had my fair share of ups and downs.

Commuting has evoked a multitude of emotions, some I could have done without.

There was the satisfaction of having the freedom to travel between places, the comfort of knowing that after a long day I’d be back home in my own room, and the pride of being able to manage everything despite commuting. But there was also the panic of almost missing an 8 a.m. final, the frustration of being cut off by reckless drivers, and the anxiety of being in another car accident because of yet another new driver. What I didn’t expect was the loneliness.

For most college students, their dorm or apartment soon becomes synonymous with home. For me, during the first year or two, I didn’t know what to call home. Having just moved to a different city and a new house the summer before my freshman year, I didn’t consider our new house home yet, but I couldn’t consider Davis home either. There was Dublin, where I used to live and where all my old friends still are, but even that didn’t feel right. It was like I was stuck in limbo. I had a place I could call home, yet at the same time I didn’t.

Driving home at nights, with the glow of Sacramento in the distance to my right, my hands grip the steering wheel as I sink back into my seat, attempting to release the tension of the day as the sound of Chester Bennington’s voice sings in the background. In the city around me, cars speed up and slow down, making turns and merges as they reach their destinations. As I watch the lights turn from red to green, I cannot help but wonder about the lives of those around me. Are they also students, or are they professors, parents, or perhaps unemployed?

I will never know, but I do know that regardless of who they are, each person is trying to get somewhere, both in that moment and in life.

And if I have learned anything from being a commuter, it is that life is like a commute. There may be a few detours, tailgaters, and some unexpected delays along the way, but we will get to where we need to be whenever that may be. As I drive home these days over the Yolo Causeway with the sun setting behind me in shades of orange, pink, and purple, I know that despite all the struggles commuting has caused, it is a part of who I am, shaping how I manage my time, react to situations, and view things. Because of that, I am thankful for these past four years as a commuter, and I wouldn’t take it back.

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As a senior at UC Davis pursuing a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, & Behavior and a Professional Writing minor, I am also a peer advisor and a program coordinator for our Health Professions Advising Center. Through my roles, I meet and work with many students and organizations through advising, putting on workshops and special events, such as the UCD Pre-Health Conference, and creating material for students to use. I love working with people, along with reading, writing, and trying new things.

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A Tale of Two Cities: My Reality and Experience as a Commuter Student

For four years, I have lived a tale of two cities, literally.

At 6:45 a.m. on a weekday, while most college students are still in bed or perhaps hitting the snooze button for the fourth time, I am on the road. I am beginning my 40-mile commute from home to UC Davis, driving between rice fields, past the Sacramento International Airport, over the Yolo Causeway, and across three separate counties and highways. It is a one-hour commute—as long as there aren’t any accidents, flooding, closed roads, or the occasional 18-wheeler engulfed in flames. What is life without a few surprises, right?

On the road, I am just one of many faceless commuters, trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as I can, but among the 30,066 undergraduates at UC Davis, I am a rarity. I am what you can call a commuter student. And in a university awarded the title of Platinum Bicycle Friendly University, where there are more bikes than people at times, it isn’t difficult feeling like the odd one out.

Most people I meet call me crazy when I tell them about my daily commute. Between raised eyebrows and furrowed foreheads, they say, “I don’t know how you do it” or “Why don’t you just live in Davis?” Reactions range from expressions of curiosity to that of judgment. With my part-time job, helping my parents, and school, sometimes I think to myself, “Yeah, I don’t know how I do it either.”

But despite the early mornings, late night drives, and the constant pull between my school life and my home life, I wouldn’t change a thing. Okay, maybe I would change some things. I mean, who wants to wake up at 5:30 a.m. for an 8 a.m. class?

There are plenty of pros to commuting: homecooked meals, free housing, the privacy and comforts of my own room, the freedom to travel wherever I want, and, of course, time with family. But then there are the cons: the early mornings, the 10-15 hours spent driving each week, the cultural mismatch, the missed opportunities, and the commute itself, among other things.

The decision to commute to and from college was decided the moment I said I was going to UC Davis. It was an unspoken agreement—one that meant saying goodbye to dorm life, to late nights at the dining commons, to roommates I’d never meet, to countless social gatherings, and to being able to wake up only 15 minutes before class started. Everything that people typically associate with the “college experience” essentially disintegrated before I even stepped foot on campus.

As a first-generation college student, I barely even knew what that meant. I just knew I wanted to make the most of my time in college.

Over the years, that has meant numerous 14-hour days spent solely on campus—sometimes several in a row. There have been days when I’ll arrive by 7:30 a.m., have five hours of classes and office hours, four to five hours of work, three different meetings, a quick lunch date with friends, and just enough time to get a bit of studying done before going home at 9:30 p.m. I blame my own self for this.

It started out with going to club meetings whenever I could during my freshman year, getting a job at our Health Professions Advising Center during my sophomore year, and adding on more and more after that. I had and still have what my wonderful boss and mentor likes to call “the Davis fever”: the feeling of needing to do everything possible. I admit, it is draining. Some days I will come back home and simply pass out. I try to study whenever I can and make time for friends and family, but things do not always work out as neatly as my calendar, color-coded in shades of blue, purple, and yellow, makes it out to be—they usually don’t. I have certainly had my fair share of ups and downs.

Commuting has evoked a multitude of emotions, some I could have done without.

There was the satisfaction of having the freedom to travel between places, the comfort of knowing that after a long day I’d be back home in my own room, and the pride of being able to manage everything despite commuting. But there was also the panic of almost missing an 8 a.m. final, the frustration of being cut off by reckless drivers, and the anxiety of being in another car accident because of yet another new driver. What I didn’t expect was the loneliness.

For most college students, their dorm or apartment soon becomes synonymous with home. For me, during the first year or two, I didn’t know what to call home. Having just moved to a different city and a new house the summer before my freshman year, I didn’t consider our new house home yet, but I couldn’t consider Davis home either. There was Dublin, where I used to live and where all my old friends still are, but even that didn’t feel right. It was like I was stuck in limbo. I had a place I could call home, yet at the same time I didn’t.

Driving home at nights, with the glow of Sacramento in the distance to my right, my hands grip the steering wheel as I sink back into my seat, attempting to release the tension of the day as the sound of Chester Bennington’s voice sings in the background. In the city around me, cars speed up and slow down, making turns and merges as they reach their destinations. As I watch the lights turn from red to green, I cannot help but wonder about the lives of those around me. Are they also students, or are they professors, parents, or perhaps unemployed?

I will never know, but I do know that regardless of who they are, each person is trying to get somewhere, both in that moment and in life.

And if I have learned anything from being a commuter, it is that life is like a commute. There may be a few detours, tailgaters, and some unexpected delays along the way, but we will get to where we need to be whenever that may be. As I drive home these days over the Yolo Causeway with the sun setting behind me in shades of orange, pink, and purple, I know that despite all the struggles commuting has caused, it is a part of who I am, shaping how I manage my time, react to situations, and view things. Because of that, I am thankful for these past four years as a commuter, and I wouldn’t take it back.

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