Me, like the majority of Chico State students, didn’t call Chico “home” until I started my freshmen year nearly four years ago. Since then, Chico has grown on me like a parasite that won’t go away. Each year my love for this city has increased ten folds. I have even spent my last two summers in this town instead of going home, and although my family might not be 100% in favor with that decision, I remind them that my time here is limited, and I want to soak up as much as I can until I graduate and move for good.
Living in the metropolitan city, San Diego, making the move from over 1 million people to just over 90 thousand was quite a big change. I went from having three freeway exists less than five miles from my house, to having one go through the entire city. I didn’t know how badly I needed to be out of that town until I left, and found myself here. The drastic change in my living situation not only enlightened me about the culture of a small town, but it also made my appreciation for my hometown increase as well. This, however, was not always the case.
I had no idea where Chico was, nor what to expect when my mom dragged me here to visit the campus while we waited for our flight at the Sacramento Airport. The drive to Chico didn’t quite sell me either. “Mom where are we?” or “Mom we are literally in the middle of nowhere” probably came out of mouth every 15 minutes or so. I give her props, she dealt with my complaining and my bad attitude for an hour and a half. All she would reply with was “Honey, I have friends who went to Chico State and loved it”. I still wasn’t convinced; that is until we took the exit on Highway 32. I was slightly dumbfounded, going from nothing but dry grass with some cows and roadkill from time to time, to being encased in a foliage of trees, and plant life. I immediately apologized to my mom and kept saying how beautiful and adorable this place was.
Stepping out of the car was rough, not going to lie. I got smacked by a wave of dry heat, something I was not used to. But no place is perfect, and I quickly got over the heat once I stepped into Madison Bear Garden and was awestruck by this glorious fire hazard that is The Bear. After taking a quick self-guided tour of the campus, Chico definitely landed on my radar.
I still had about a year to decide where I wanted to further my education. I had many options throughout California, but Chico always remained near the top of my list. It wasn’t until I visited again in November that my mind was made: I’m going to Chico state. If you didn’t already know, San Diego is considered a coastal desert, meaning, although the weather stays “ideal” year-round, we don’t really know what seasons are. Driving down the Esplanade was an entirely new experience. Those who have seen the leaves change throughout their lives might think this sounds lame, but driving down that road honestly took my breath away. I vividly remember taking as many pictures as I could. I wanted to cherish this moment forever, and then it dawned on me, “Maddie, you could experience this for years if you go here”. Having the rich colors of orange, red, and yellow surround the entire city, the crisp breeze hitting my face, and the water, oh my God the water was so plentiful I almost forgot we were in the worst drought we’ve had in decades. It was after that trip I knew Chico was the place for me. It was the perfect mix of quirky, hippy-dippy, and a little rebellious, all traits I like to think I possess. It was truly a match made in heaven.
After applying to CSU Chico, playing the waiting game was one of the most stressful things I have had to deal with in my young life. I had the grades and test scores, but as my friends who also applied got their acceptance letter, there I was waiting. That’s when I started thinking the worst. “What if I didn’t get in?” “Where would I go?” “I knew I shouldn’t have gotten all caught up on one school”. One month before I graduated I finally got my acceptance letter for Chico State. I was so overjoyed, I actually might have shouted it from some sort of rooftop. I was going to my number one school, something not everyone can say they did. The summer going into my freshmen year flew by so quickly it felt as though it ended before it really started. The next thing I know I was at IKEA looking for dorm room supplies. I, of course, was nervous to leave my family, my friends, my hometown, and especially my dogs, but I knew I had to move on and start the next journey of my life…college.
I eventually moved into Whitney Hall in mid-August, and although I was certainly excited to be here, I longed each and every day to be back home with my family and friends, and quickly found myself sad, and for the first time in my life, depressed. The thought of moving back to San Diego quickly rose to an option I had brewing in my head. But my mama didn’t raise a quitter. My family was head over heels over overjoyed when I moved to Chico. I am the first person in my entire family to move away to college, which gives them the excuse to go on mini vacations. I was going to stick it out for them. But I knew I’d have to get over my fears, and emotions and start making the most out of my experience. I thought back to my initial excitement when I first came to visit, and how I was on the verge of tears when I got accepted. I lifted my head up, and thanks to a couple of amazing friends, our journey to discover Chico was in full swing.
We started simple, going to the farmers market on Thursdays and Saturdays, or taking long walks through Lower Park. My sadness slowly started to decrease, and the love I had for this town started to grow exponentially. One of the first things I noticed was how genuinely warm and welcoming the people were in this town. Almost every shop I went to, I was greeted with a friendly smile, from what felt like real, genuine people. That’s something I certainly did not experience in San Diego. It wasn’t until my friend brought his car up from Roseville, and we visited Upper Park for the first time where I felt my original love for Chico overpower my homesickness. I knew I was going to be able to stick it out. I realized I barely had scratched the surface when it came to this town. I spent the remainder of my freshmen year exploring as many parts of Chico, and the surrounding area as I could. Whether it was Bear Hole, The Flumes, Honeycomb Bridge, or simply heading up Highway 32, we were out every Saturday and Sunday, ready to discover another hidden gem.
That following year, I had the opportunity to work at a family-owned restaurant for over a year and a half. This is where I saw how tight-knit the community actually was. Every time I worked someone would see someone they knew, and the genuine excitement they felt once they embraced each other was heartwarming. I slowly felt myself becoming part of the Chico family. That was when I chose to stay here for the summer, and not go home. My parents were hesitant but eventually realized that I was my happy go lucky again and agreed to let me stay.
Although the summer was HOT, the town was almost like therapy for me during that time of year. The empty roads and quiet nights honestly cleared my head after an especially tough semester. By the time school started again I had a clear head and was ready to make the most out of my junior year. I knew the town and school well enough to feel confident when I walked through either. I knew where to go, and where to stay away from, and although I didn’t think it was possible, I started loving Chico even more. At the beginning of the year I told my family that I would go home for the summer, but as the year progressed I came to the conclusion that staying here for the summer once again was the best and healthiest option for me. I reminded them that this is my last summer here, and I wanted to make the most of it, and soak it all in before I move back for good. This is where we’re all caught up; I have the most amazing internship here, at the radio station, and also scored my dream job at the Chico State WREC Climbing Gym. Things can’t really get any better, and I know my life would be completely different if decided to move back.
For my final note, I’d just like to say thank you. Thank you to my friends, the people I’ve met on the way, and my Chico family for helping me realize that this town is truly is something special. Before I was somber about leaving my hometown to move here, but now I find myself getting more and more upset knowing I will be leaving this amazing city in less than a year. If anyone is in the same boat I was in when I first moved here, my only word of advice is to make the most of your experience here. Do the most you can, and meet as many people as possible. There is no place like Chico CA, and I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t move here four years ago.