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    Student Testimonial: University of Arizona College of Fine Arts

    Posted August 25, 2023, 8:00 am by TeenLife
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    Gem Elena Abarca - University of Arizona College of Fine Arts

    Why did you choose to attend the University of Arizona?

    I had a calling to come to the University of Arizona. I can’t tell you what it was ... maybe it was the strong emphasis of curiosity and community from the university, my breakfast, or the proud representation of the Latino culture in Tucson that made me feel at home. But when I stepped onto the university’s campus, I had this warm, flooding feeling go through my body that started in my chest, and a voice in my head that said, “Here. You will find yourself here. You have to come here.” Everything else fell into place. I fell in love with the city and the campus by how it could feel just large enough for you to explore and find new people and opportunities, but just small enough for you to feel connected to the community, people, and the location.

    I came into my first year being an engineering student, but it was only a matter of time before I became serious with myself and took a leap to follow my passion and dream of being an artist. 

    What did you hope to get out of your time at University of Arizona, and did you achieve it?

    I didn’t know what art school was going to be like when I first began my program, so I didn’t have much of an end goal besides becoming a professional artist. Now in my fourth year as a student, I understand what this question means. I hoped to get and have earned critical mentorship. Art school teaches you how to make art, but mentors will teach you how to write, speak, give you tips on perfecting your craft, show you new artists, etc. They will show you what you will need to do to sustain yourself. Talk to all of your professors and keep talking. Get to know the ones that you feel the most connected to and they will help you learn most.

    Did you have to prepare for this program in any way?

    I’m not sure. In many ways, I dived head-first into the art program. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that I wanted to be an artist. So, I gave my classes my all by embracing the prompts given for projects and finding ways to challenge myself by using new material, finding non-traditional ways to accomplish a goal, or twisting the prompt. In another way, I prepared for this program by cooking under the pressure of needing to be myself. I have always wanted to be an artist since I was a child, but the world makes you think that it is impossible and that you should get a degree in something that will earn you money even if you hate it, because at least you have money.

    My entire first-year experience consisted of me daydreaming about art, staying up making art, and searching for art internships when we were supposed to look up engineering internships. Looking back, I should have gone straight into art right out of high school. However, being in a space where I could not be my authentic self was the period of time I needed to become determined in what I truly wanted to do, who I wanted to be, and taking that leap. 

    What was a typical day like at the University of Arizona?

    Running. So much running around campus. Getting from my campus job at the Center for Digital Humanities located in the middle of campus to my studio classes at the edge of campus, spending the next six hours at the school of art with two back-to-back studio classes, finding a second to breathe between them … it’s so fun. Not to mention that often you’re running into friends as you’re doing all this running. And they’re running too! At the end of the day, you’re exhausted, but it’s a fulfilled exhaustion. You’re physically tired, but not emotionally. Always allot [space] for bad days and be kind to yourself on those days. Just because you’re following your heart doesn’t mean it’s going to be paradise. 

    What was the most memorable moment of your time at the University of Arizona?

    I have had so many wonderful memories with myself and people I hold as dear friends. Easily, however, the most memorable moment of my time at the University of Arizona was the time I had to pull three straight all-nighters to turn in two different art finals. One was a wood sculpture; another was making six 24” x 24” charcoal drawings. So many energy drinks were drunk. My hands, eyes, and brain were utter mush.

    I worked on those projects every second I could while still attending my classes. I remember because I would doze off in classes and in my World of Buddhism class, I wanted to so badly to fall asleep on the shoulder of my crush who I sat next to but couldn’t because we were “just friends” and I knew they had a partner. They’re my partner now and don’t tell them, but I still have a crush on them. 

    What advice do you have for Teens looking for the right college?

    “Follow your bliss.” This is a quote from Joseph Cambell, an American writer. I grew up in a strict, religious household and was yearning to get out and move to college because I knew that when I got there, no one could tell me what to do anymore. I don’t mean this in a reckless way either. I mean it in the sense that I was finally able to be my authentic self ... something that I had to hide behind dresses I didn’t want to wear, prayers, and church meetings I didn’t want to attend. In that blooming feeling I got stepping onto the University of Arizona’s campus, I discovered what taking responsibility for your life meant.

    Follow your bliss by doing things that will make you happy, healthy, and fulfilled. So, visit campuses, look up programs you’re interested in, see if you can find people of communities, you’re part of, and talk to the people in them. When you feel like you’re glowing and you can’t help but smile, or on the flip side, when you feel like you can’t contain yourself and you have to go in and take action despite the unknown, that’s when you know you’re onto the right path.

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