Breaking the Cycle: From Small Town to San Diego

Tulelake to San Diego Map

A blog post by MA in Higher Education Leadership student ambassador Alejandra Gonzalez Zuniga 

I am Alejandra, a Mexican-American, first-generation college student from the small town of Tulelake, California. Tulelake is a rural town on the California-Oregon border with a population of 1,Alejandra in a USD Hoodie000 people. My high school graduating class in 2016 was 34 people, and of those 34 people, less than half of us continued our education. Growing up in Tulelake, a less privileged community has not only offered financial and academic challenges but has also helped me realize the value of a college education. Where I am from, it is hard to get out, and I was never expected to amount to much. Tulelake is a town with lots of agricultural employment opportunities dealing with physical labor, which does not require a college education. The cycle is like this; high school students graduate, get offered a job, take it enthusiastically, start making money of their own, and ponder the question, “Do I need to go to college?” Unfortunately, oftentimes the answer is no, and these people never unlock their true potential. I refused to be a part of this cycle. 

After graduating from high school, I became the first in my family to attend college, and just recently, I became the first to graduate with a college degree. I earned my Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Education and Sciences. Chico is also a relatively small town for most people, but for me, it was huge compared to Tulelake. Chico is in Northern California and was about 3 ½ hours from home and had a population of 94,776. Attending Chico State was a culture shock for me. In Tulelake you are either White or Hispanic, that’s it. I had the opportunity at Chico to immerse myself in my campus community with people from all types of racial/ethnic backgrounds and cultures. Some of the people I met at Chico helped me combat my imposter syndrome and allowed me to truly appreciate education. They helped me gain the confidence to apply to graduate school and make the decision that scared me the most.

Tulelake to San Diego Map

The decision that scared me the most was choosing the University of San Diego, where I am currently pursuing my Master’s Degree in Higher Education Leadership. USD was the university that was the furthest from home and in the largest city of all the places I applied. San Diego is about 13 hours away from home and has a population of 1.426 million people. This was a whole other culture shock in itself. I have never experienced city-life or things like traffic. Additionally, San Diego is even far more diverse than Chico. Everything is so new here; however, I am incredibly excited about the experiences I will gain here and the people I meet. I had to make the decision that was the most out of my comfort zone because, ultimately, that is how we grow.

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