Finding My Place at UC Davis - Daniel Ryn Van Patten

First Generation College Student Daniel Ryn Van Patten reading a book
I chose this spot because it faces the route I always take to work when I finish class for the day. It’s a place that signifies the path I took that led me to being a happier person because lately my job at Mishka’s really helped me find a sense of place here at Davis. Photo: Daniel Oberbauer

Daniel Ryn Van Patten '18


I was born in a small town called Murrieta, California, but soon afterwards moved to an island village off the coast of Belize known as San Pedro Town. A fishing village popular with tourists for its laid back environment and beautiful weather, I grew accustomed to that lifestyle before I moved back to the states around the beginning of my middle school years. 

Having spent my early years outside of the United States, I struggled to perform when I returned. In addition, my father was a musician -- he was the drummer for the 80s band Berlin. He had finished high school, but never stressed education as important, which I believe added to my poor performance. I skipped a lot of classes, though I am not sure my dad figured that out.  

After living with my father for about half of my life, I ended up living with my mom in Idyllwild. Since my mom never completed high school she worked as a grocery store bagger until she got laid off during the beginning of the recession. Times were rough for a while; we were homeless for a brief period and when we could find a place to stay my mother, her boyfriend, and I were always cramped into one room. Eventually she found a job as a maid, but things fell through once again and I ended up moving in with my grandmother in Perris, California. 

That move, for some reason, had a profound effect on my academic performance and I found myself earning straight As for the first time in my life. I took AP classes and joined Future Farmers of America and JROTC. A lot of my teachers pushed me to go to college; they told me I was smart enough to succeed, and I suppose they were right since I am going to graduate this year. I chose UC Davis because I had visited the campus a few times during FFA field trips, and I loved the weather -- a simple reason that holds true today. 

My high school teachers said I had a knack for science and told me that if I majored in science I could find a stable job, which made sense to me since job security was something my family never really had. I tried being a chemistry major since one of my favorite FFA teachers taught chemistry, but I didn’t enjoy it. A difficult course is one thing, but being miserable in a profession didn’t sit right. I decided to try history, and the passion I had felt for it in high school was still there so I stuck with it.

Professors Making an Impact
The History department is amazing. Ali Anooshahr was probably the first professor that ever really made me sit up in class and feel eager for learning, and made me want to emphasize Middle Eastern history. Wendy DeSouza, an amazing professor, encouraged me to pursue graduate school and made me feel capable. Cecilia Tsu was an exceptional professor who made me interested in immigration history. Manar Al-Shatarat made language learning fun. Having faculty who are so dynamic and engaging can benefit any student because it makes learning fun and that's how education should be. 

After I graduate, I am planning on taking a gap year before applying to PhD programs in History.  I’m hoping to do a study on traditions of body modification throughout history in different cultures and how those reflect each group’s respective histories. I hope to one day be a professor or a curator.

On Belonging, Depression, and Finding Support 
I had to do this all alone because no one in my family had the college experience to give me advice. Being surrounded by peers who are exceptional students can make you feel a bit unsure of yourself at times. I wondered whether I deserved to be here when there were people obviously so much better suited for this place. I was depressed, and a lot had been going on in my life. In addition, I felt like maybe the achievement wouldn't be worthwhile, as I had lost my father the summer before my senior year of high school and graduating from college felt like it would be pointless without my dad there to see me succeed. The one thing that helped me out was an on-campus counselor, Dr. Phan, who helped me realize there was a lot I was just holding in and that I had to be more forgiving to myself.

On the other hand, I've always been extremely social thanks to my upbringing on an island where you can get to know a lot of people relatively quickly. I was never shy in putting myself out there or asking for help.

Spending time with my mom also helped me in that being homeless taught me to always be thankful for the things I have. I feel like the hard times I went through have made me someone who appreciates life more and can pursue things that I truly find interesting, rather than just doing something because I have to.

And I’m finding the people who truly love who I am here at Davis.

Advice for First Gen Students: 
Go easy on yourself. As cliche as it sounds, life is a journey and you have to be able to enjoy it. Your mental health is very important, so even if you feel nothing is wrong, I think everyone could benefit from seeing a counselor who gives you a chance to think about yourself. Also, just be more forgiving to yourself; you're human. It's perfectly okay to make mistakes.