An Interview with Celine Truong
Written by Mercedes Allende on November 23, 2021
UCLA Radio’s Campus Stories project, focusing on highlighting and humanizing underrepresented students on campus, presents our second interview with second year Public Affairs transfer Celine Truong. Celine is the internship co-director at Undergraduate Students Association Council Transfer Student Representative office as well as a co-director at SEATED, the Southeast Asian Transfer Enrichment Day. She transferred from Mira Costa College. Celine is a passionate artist and activist on the UCLA campus.
[please note that the following interview has been edited for grammar and clarity]
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Celine, my major is public affairs, and my pronouns are she/hers. And I transferred from Mira Costa College.
How have your personal identities shaped your experience at UCLA?
I would say one of the personal identities that has shaped my experiences at UCLA is definitely being the daughter of two immigrants. They are first-generation college students and I’m really lucky to have parents who went to college. I’m able to learn and hear about their experiences, having nobody to help them through community college or four-year university. Another identity that I really hold true to myself is being Asian American: Vietnamese and Chinese. I take part in a lot of cultural clubs here at UCLA, so it’s really nice seeing a lot of people who look like me and are UCLA students. It’s really cool.
How has it been finding community on campus?
Finding a community where I truly belonged was really difficult at first because I’m a second-year transfer and I transferred in during COVID. I just remember talking to my roommates, who are traditional four-year students, and they were like, “Celine, I cannot wait until COVID is over, so you can truly see what UCLA is like.” And I remember being in my room thinking, “Where the hell is everyone, like, who am I supposed to be hanging out with, chillin’ with, who really does share my experiences?” So when I joined the USAC TSR office as the internship co-director, I really met students who were feeling like myself– who were feeling lost, they didn’t have a community, and they were brand new to UCLA. I was like, “Don’t worry, I’m here for you.” I was also the co-director for SEATED, which is Southeast Asian Transfer Enrichment Day. It’s more like a three-day weekend, where we introduce transfer students to a lot of panelists, give them advice on what it’s like to be a Southeast Asian transfer, and connect them to organizations they might find beneficial to their own journey here at UCLA.
What was your experience like at Miracosta?
My experience at Mira Costa was so fulfilling because there are so many different students with different identities. For example, my dad went to Mira Costa with me, so it was a really cool experience because you don’t normally go to college with your parents. He was going back to get his Ph.D. and he was like, “Celine, there’s one thing that I want to show you, and it’s that you can pursue higher education if you really, really want to. And look at me, I can do it.” So going to Mira Costa was really eye-opening because I met so many different types of people.
I always go to transfer lobby days and student lobby days because I’m a Public Affairs major and I really like that stuff. At those events, one person I always highlight to politicians when pushing for student advocacy is this one gentleman I met named David. David dropped out of school when he was in middle school and he didn’t have parents at that age. He had to resort to selling drugs on the streets and finding food for himself just to go to school. He’s 25 now and he finished his degree just last year, so I think his story is what accompanies and embodies being a transfer student. There are so many different types of students in different stages of their lives who have to pursue community college because it’s more accessible, it’s cheaper, and there are just more resources that help students who have to go to school and work or students who have kids.
How did this experience impact your transition to UCLA?
Gaining the perspective that there are so many different types of students has really impacted my experience here at UCLA. It really made me want to pursue research on different types of students and different experiences they had, so we could push policies that would truly help students here. There are so many issues in the world, but why not start here at UCLA and talk about issues with people and address the different types of problems they have? That really helped me transition here, just being in spaces that are very supportive of other students. I felt supported in that way as well.
What do you wish UCLA would be better about regarding the transfer community?
In regards to UCLA really considering transfer experiences, one common issue is that transfers find it a little bit harder to apply for certain organizations and clubs because they’re essentially coming from somewhere random. We have no idea what they were dealing with, then they have to figure everything out in one year, and then apply to all their extracurriculars during senior year. But it’s common for organizations and clubs to be really focused on students that have been in their organizations before, so they hire students who have been there and who they know, which makes sense. It’s hard because much of the time, the organizations don’t really understand the transfer experience. Actually, as a call to action, the TSR office holds transfer awareness training for organizations. It’s run by my friend, Kayla, and was created by my past TSR directors, Herman and Zuleika.
Another issue among transfer students deals with transferring credits from one four-year institution to another. The tool we usually utilize is Assist.org, which essentially tells you, “Oh, English 1B transfers to English 105, here at UCLA,” and that’s how you get credits. But oftentimes four-year transfers have to deep dive and read the course descriptions, which sometimes aren’t true to what they’re saying. For example, my friend had to retake some chemistry classes and some physics classes because they didn’t count at our old school. She then had to backtrack, go through all that stress, email 15 people, and wait back for a response. And she’s doing that all while being a student, which really shows that there isn’t a specific route that four-year to four-year transfer students can take, nor do they have someone to talk to because there isn’t a system for that yet.
Transfer students who are disabled sometimes have compromised immune systems and, being in a pandemic, it’s really hard for them to go to class because they’re essentially risking their health. So I’d really like to see UCLA push more policies that really support transfer students who are disabled as well.
What do you like about being a transfer student at UCLA?
There are so many amazing stories that transfers have. I suggest everyone just ask, “Where’d you transfer from? What’s your story? What is it like?”, because there are just so many grounding stories that you can hear. Like, “Wow, you really went through all of that, and you still transferred to UCLA.” I just love those stories. Also, the transfer community here is absolutely amazing because they’re so supportive. Everyone’s just like, “Yeah, I know what you went through. Let’s just get through this together.”
I feel that students here at UCLA are welcoming. They’re like, “If the administration isn’t gonna support you, then let me highlight you and let me tell your story.” There’s a lot of student organizations that are truly here to support each other and I just love seeing that dynamic.
Could you tell us more about your involvement in the transfer community?
I’m the internship co-director for the TSR office in USAC, TSR standing for transfer student representatives. Last year, I was working in the Regents Relations office. The regents consist of 18 individuals who are appointed by Gavin Newsom and they’re in office for around 12 years. Some of them are voted in, but they’re also the people who make policies for UC schools. My job last year was to interview over 60 students to talk about their experiences and to send out a survey to bring together all of that quantitative and qualitative research in order to push certain policies. This year, I am the internship co-director because we’re really trying to cultivate a space for transfer students who are interested in advocating for other transfer students and seeing what creative ways they can go about pushing other stories. It’s also really awesome seeing their research projects wrap up because they’re like, “Wow, I had a great time,” and just seeing their faces light up when they’re talking about students like themselves and really having the opportunity to meet other disabled students or other first-generation students who share those similar experiences. Another thing that I’m involved in is SEATED, which is Southeast Asian Transfer Enrichment Day. Basically, we have panelists come, students take part in families, and they have fun games. They really have the opportunity to meet other transfer students, so they don’t feel completely alone when they get here at UCLA.
There’s a lot of change involved with being a transfer. Has art been a part of your dealing with that transition?
Art has been a really big part of my identity overall. I could tie it back to being a transfer because it’s freakin’ stressful, I mean we all get stressed out. The way I utilize art is just finding a balance between doing work all the time and really just taking time for myself, and sitting down, reflecting, and making whatever the frick I want. You know what I mean? I just sit there and I’m like, “Okay, this makes me feel good. I’m going to make it.” Then, I reflect on why I made it and what it means to me. Sometimes it’s talking about how my year has been, not only as a transfer student, but as a daughter of immigrants, as someone who feels like they’re brand new to this community. Because although I’m a senior, last year was really not the UCLA experience. But this year has been really great.
How has being a transfer affected your involvement in some of the other aspects of the UCLA community?
At first, being a transfer affected my experience and involvement in the UCLA community because I just had no clue what was going on. And maybe it’s because it was during the pandemic, but that really pushed me to find the TSR office and to find other students who were dealing with that issue as well. I think I started working for the TSR office around late Winter quarter when I reached out to them on Instagram and I was like, “Hi, I really like your work. Can I please join you? I have no idea what’s going on. I’m not seeing all the posts on Instagram. I don’t know what pages to follow.” My introduction to UCLA was kind of rough because I just didn’t know who to ask. And so maybe that’s specific to COVID, but after talking to others who have transferred in at different times, sometimes they don’t really know what’s going on either, especially on the hill if they don’t live there. And sometimes transfer students live in apartments because they are juniors and seniors. So yes, that was a really big obstacle to face in the beginning. But now we hit the ball running and we got to get going.
We absolutely loved sharing Celine’s experiences as a transfer student here at UCLA and we’d like to thank her for all of her efforts building a community for transfers on our campus where they can feel connected and comfortable. Follow her Instagram (main and/or art accounts) to learn more about her involvements and her art: