The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

California dreaming: Finding my place in the city of angels

Leyna Kobayashi | Special to The Union

I’ve always considered my hometown small, even with over 300,000 residents.

With that many people, it should be easy to have a quiet life with plenty of privacy.

In Lexington, Kentucky, that’s far from the case. Gossipping is probably everyone’s favorite hobby.

Growing up, I always felt out of place. As a tomboy, I had trouble making friends with girls. I never connected with them the way I saw them connect with other.

I was also very into theater as a kid and acted in local plays. By age eight, I wanted nothing more than to live in Los Angeles and become an actress.

In middle school, I found myself among the “popular” crowd, where I was always picked on by the people I called my friends.

My personality changed drastically. I became timid, quiet and anxious since everything I did was scrutinized.

In high school, I decided to join cheerleading. I was thrown right back into an environment where I was judged for my appearance.

Cheerleading breeds unkind people. Girls on my team would spend their time talking about each other in the worst ways, just like their moms.

It was always so odd to me that women would gossip about teenagers and other moms regularly.

The majority of the people I knew from Lexington acted that way. It was a sort of culture that I was in from a young age.

I hated it.

I wanted to spend my time talking about important things. Unfortunately, not too many people felt the same, leaving me with only a handful of friends.

On countless nights, I would stare at the ceiling and imagine what my life would be like if I could get out of town. I felt trapped.

Almost everyone around me planned to stay where they were and surround themselves with the same people their whole lives, which was the last thing I wanted.

So when my best friend got offered a spot to play on the El Camino softball team in 2021, I jumped on the opportunity to go with her.

I graduated high school a semester early and worked for the seven months leading up to the move, trying to save up as much money as I could. I ended up saving over $8,000.

Growing up outside of California, my image of Los Angeles was everything glamorous. I saw it as a place where everyone could be whoever they wanted to be and it was easy to follow your dreams. A place where the streets sparkled.

The summer before the move was probably the best summer of my life. Knowing I would never live there again was liberating and I stopped caring about what people thought of me.

On July 28, 2021, I got in my car and said goodbye to my hometown for the last time.

My dad and I spent three days driving across the country, stopping at each state sign to take a picture.

The closer I got to the California state line, the more reality set in. As much as I wanted to leave my hometown, I knew I would be leaving behind everything I had ever known.

That included my dad.

My dad is my best friend. He’s been my biggest supporter from day one and he’s always been there for me. There is no one in this world that I love more than my dad.

Saying goodbye to him once I had settled in my apartment was one of the hardest days for me. I knew I would only see him a few times a year, which upset me.

But I was in California. The one place in the world that I thought I belonged.

I thought.

The first few months in California were hard. Most of my time was spent in my new apartment, going to school online.

I spent my free time driving through downtown LA and the surrounding areas. Culture shock is an understatement.

The streets I always fantasized about were covered in garbage, barred windows, and graffiti.

I quickly learned that it’s not safe to walk outside in certain places, which was alien to me. Every town has its rough parts, but I had never felt uncomfortable going outside in suburban neighborhoods before.

I grew up a block away from an elementary school, with big green trees lining the streets and cute brick houses stacked side by side.

It was a stereotypical suburbia.

Another thing I wasn’t expecting was how difficult it would be to make friends. I mean, nearly impossible.

Not only was learning online hard, there was no real way to meet people. I even worked different jobs in hopes of meeting people, but none of those friendships stuck, which led to me becoming an introvert.

Once I ran out of the money I saved up. I had to find ways of supporting myself. I ended up working so much, my grades slipped.

Additionally, I stopped talking to a lot of my family members because of how they treated me throughout my life, including my mom.

I was living in a strange city at 18, with one friend, with bad grades and unmet expectations.

It was one of the most difficult times of my life. I even contemplated moving back to Kentucky for a while, but that thought was taken over by the realization that I wouldn’t be happy there either.

I felt alone.

Like there was nowhere I belonged. Nowhere for me to go. I had dreamed and wished and prayed for a life in California for as long as I could remember, and now it seemed like I didn’t fit in there either.

This was before I realized just how large the city is. I realized that my people were out there somewhere, I just had to be patient and keep going.

I figured out my financial situation and studied harder in school. I turned my D’s and F’s into straight A’s.

I even mended my relationship with my family.

The first couple of years of living in California sucked, yes. However, it forced me to be comfortable with myself and it taught me how to forgive, both things I struggled with.

In the fall 2023 semester, I met an amazing group of people who spent their time talking about important things. I’m so grateful I found El Camino’s student-run newspaper The Union and was lucky enough to know the staff.

I think I’m finally starting to find my place in California and the world.

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