Guest Column

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    More to life than Zuma Beach

    By Alexis Sherwin

    Four years ago, when I learned that I was going to attend Duke University in the fall, Mom and I set out for the stores to buy hats, gloves, a heavy jacket, snow shoes and thermal underwear. After all, the front cover of the Duke brochure was a picture of students walking across a snowy quad. In my mind, I was going to the Arctic.

    Having lived my life in 😯 degree weather, I had no idea how difficult the adjustment process would be, but I reveled in the thought of waking up to the snow and walking along a country road and listening to people with funny southern accents. I craved change. At my alma mater, Malibu High School, I was one of only five students in my class who had chosen to attend college outside of California, and I wondered why everyone was content staying close to home. When I asked my friends why they wanted to do their undergraduate work in California, I got pretty standard answers: “I love the beach,” or “All of my friends are going to UC Santa Barbara.” When I came home on breaks everyone seemed pretty much the same — smarter — but the same. Certainly I had written more papers, become more versed in Shakespearean sonnets, learned how to balance a checkbook, and how to stay up till 3 a.m. every night — all the normal college experiences. But I had also gained a much deeper understanding of the opportunities that exist outside of my state.

    The most valuable thing that Duke offered me was a chance to live amongst people from every state and many countries, the majority of whom had left their homes in search of a strong liberal arts experience. In my freshman year dorm, I lived with people who had grown up on farms, people who had lived in the Deep South, Christian people, Buddhist people, Republicans, heavy metal listeners — a hodgepodge of people with whom I had a million things in common, and others with whom I had no visible connections. Though there is a percentage of students who come from out of state to California for college, the UC system is dominated with state residents. I’m not saying these state schools are homogenous in all senses, but there is a lack of the world experiences that can add so much to our understanding of cultural diversity. What we, college students, can symbiotically do for each other is broaden our world views by exposing and sharing ourselves with people of different backgrounds. I can’t even begin to describe the satisfaction I take when my friend, Heather, from Ohio, exclaims, “Dude,” or when one of my California friends notices that a little Southern drawl has sneaked its way into my Valley Girl accent. And beyond the small details are the experiences of staying at my friends’ homes in New York and Louisiana and taking weekend road trips to Ashville, N.C., and Washington D.C. California is beautiful and warm all over, but the East coast is a conglomeration of states that all have their own unique feel to them.

    Though it came as a surprise to me, spending four years in North Carolina made me love California more than I ever had when living there, because I no longer take for granted the wonderful things that my state has to offer. By leaving and coming back, I now have the basis for comparison which allows me to take special notice of what I cherish in the state of California.

    When a beautiful sunset by the beach is an every day occurrence, you never realize how lucky you are to live near such splendor. On the other hand, when all you have is the beach, you never know what it’s like to fall asleep to a sununer tbunderstorm or hear red leaves crunch beneath your feet. The world is ripe with beautiful things to explore and exceptional people to meet. When you’re young and unburdened by mortgage payments and baby sitters, why waste the opportunity to travel and explore the great country you live in? If you love California, come back to it, but take the time to see a different part of the country in order to really appreciate what you’ve got. Malibu students, take it from me, there is more to life than Zuma Beach.

    Alexis Sherwin graduated from Malibu High School class of 1996 and recently graduated from Duke University.