For a kid who grew up in a small, unknown city in China, like myself, the idea to study abroad in the United States was a gamble.

Yes, there are better educational opportunities, boarder developmental platforms and more diverse life experiences available in the U.S., and all of these lighted a match within me, full of curiosity and hope...but deciding to study abroad in a country so far away from home is not as easy as booking a flight to Hawaii for vacation.

The match was actually standing on the edge of a stove. Culture shock, linguistic challenges, academic pressure and economic burden – I felt like I was getting in over my head. But despite the resistance I was experiencing, the future that I was so curious and nervous about was somewhat bright in my heart.

Eventually, I made up my mind and then worked hard to achieve my goal. It was especially challenging for a non-native English speaker to prepare for the SATs and apply for American colleges. In front of me was a huge mountain covered with weeds and stones, but I climbed over it with confidence and perseverance. Sweat and effort paid me off with an acceptance from UCLA, allowing me step closer to the brighter future I always envisioned for myself.

I remember the 13-hour flight from Beijing to Los Angeles; it seemed like an hour’s nap. Waking up in the sky above a new territory, I realized that actions could travel a lot faster than the mind.

Learning a new language is difficult. When I first came to Los Angeles, asking for a cup of coffee with my stumbled spoken English was hard for me.

But even though the language barrier was a challenge, the life of studying abroad is full of novelty and surprises.

UCLA provides me with so many opportunities to improve myself and make progresses. The California sunshine makes me happy every single day. The gorgeous buildings eliminate all my displeasure whenever I push the door and step out of the library. Various clubs make my academic life no longer stressful. And my sorority family provides me with a sense of belonging that reduces my homesickness.

After staying here for one year, I’ve already adjusted to the world of studying aboard. Although sometimes I have to study all day for finals and work in the dining hall until midnight to afford living fees, I am still satisfied with the fullness of my life.

Besides the busy but enriching life that I enjoy, one of my biggest gains out of this experience is the ability to make my own decisions. Far away from parents, I make decisions not only about the trivial happenings in my daily life, but also about my major and future career. I came here with a major that my parents told me to do, but I changed my mind to do what I want to do. My life no longer needs other people’s arrangement; I am running on a path that I chose by myself.

In retrospect, I understand what studying abroad really is: It is the courage to face the unknown, the attempt to challenge oneself and the motivation to achieve a dream and even surpass it.