West Coast vs. East Coast: Perspectives from a West Coast First-Year

“Wait, how cold does it get in California?”

To say I am unprepared is an understatement. I spent my last days of summer dressed in shorts, a tank top and a bikini.

Coming from the Bay Area, just east of San Francisco, snow was a rare, if not foreign, occurrence. Besides the occasional trip to Lake Tahoe or the use of my ‘defroster’ on a particularly cold morning, I largely avoided the cold. In the chance it dropped below 55 degrees, I could count on my favorite pair of leggings and a sweatshirt to keep me warm.

Packing for college this August, one thing quickly became clear: my West Coast wardrobe would not quite cut it. It was night quite easy to find winter gear during in 95-degree weather. Pointed in the direction of coats, I discovered (with much disappointment) a single, cluttered rack labeled ‘ski jackets.’ I must have tried my hand at three different stores, with the same luck: no one had ordered snow equipment. And so it quickly became settled: I would arrive at Colgate with just four sweaters, two pairs of gloves and one Northface jacket. Snow gear would have to wait.

Packing my bedding, clothing and other dorm essentials soon became an issue of its own. Pulling three duffle bags, two backpacks and one golf bag from the closet, we somehow mustered my things onto the plane. Landing in Ithaca’s small, one terminal airport (two flights later), we finally arrived in New York. Finding a coffee shop in Syracuse some hours later, it promptly began to pour. My dad and I sat in our rental car, mortified. For as long as I could remember, California had suffered from extreme drought; I had never even owned a pair of rain boots. If you could imagine, the hills were comparably greener in New York.

Several days later, I arrived in Hamilton more excited than ever, largely over the infamous “Whole Foods” (note the quotation marks). As someone who ate from the grocery store religiously, I could not help but feel disappointed; my beloved sushi and hot bars nowhere in sight. Fortunately, a bagel from Flour and Salt made up for the loss. Exploring the town further, I realized just how small my world had become; Berkeley was no longer 15 minutes away with its concerts, never-ending food options and views of the Bay. Weirdly enough, the thought only excited me. The streets of Hamilton looked as picturesque as those of a movie.

Soon after meeting students at a pre-orientation program, it became clear just how different our lives were. I had never been to the Jersey Shore; in fact, I had barely heard of Martha’s Vineyard, let alone met someone who had visited on vacation. Boarding school did not exist on the West Coast, and private schools were not nearly as common. Struggling to relate to conversation, I became aware of how Californian I truly was. People seemed just as shocked, if not intrigued, to hear about it.

“What is it like on the West Coast? I have never been there before.”

“Did you go to the beach a lot?”

Despite every difference, however, I never doubted my decision to attend Colgate University. Everything is new, as I believe it should be: the weather, the people, the culture. As I continue to explore the East Coast, one thing is for certain: I will be purchasing a winter coat. I think it will come in handy.