“Life is a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller
Name: Christa Widjaja
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Current City: Houston, TX
Undergraduate University & Major: Texas Tech University, Biology
Graduate School Attending: University of Houston College of Optometry (UHCO)
Take me back a decade, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I have wanted to be an Optometrist since I was 8 years old, so you could say my childhood dreams actually came true when I was accepted in Optometry school.
Tell me about your college application process. How did you decide on a school and major?
One reason why I chose Texas Tech was because of how big its Health Sciences program was. Although it does not have an Optometry program, I was sure that it would give me enough preparation for graduate school. However, the determining factor was when I auditioned and joined the now National Champion Texas Tech Pom Squad. When choosing my major, I had asked a good friend who had gone to the same high school as me as well as Texas Tech what he had chosen. He told me that a Biology major and Chemistry minor provided him with all of the necessary prerequisites, and that is exactly what I did. Looking back and after talking to one of my current classmates who also went to Texas Tech, I wish I had chosen the Nutrition route, but I made it to Optometry school and that is all that matters.
What was the hardest part of your undergraduate studies? How did you get through it?
I had the most difficult time whenever I had multiple upper level science courses during one semester. As a four year member of the Texas Tech Pom Squad, my team was my family in Lubbock. They became my best friends, and we made sure to always relieve stress as much as possible together. They were my escape from the Biology world.
What did you do between undergrad and graduate school?
I only had the summer before graduate school started, so I had a couple of big events planned. First, I competed in the Miss Texas America Scholarship Pageant as Miss Coppell. I had an amazing time with my pageant sisters making memories that will last a lifetime. Second, I got to go back to my parents’ homeland of Indonesia for the third time in my life. We spent a little bit less than a month there, and I finally got to meet my younger cousins that had been born after my second visit to the culture-filled country. The food there is to die for, and I cannot wait to visit again.
How and when did you decide on Optometry school?
I knew I wanted to be an Optometrist when I was 8 years old. My Optometrists at the time was a young couple who owned their own private practice. There were able to help me use my first pair of contact lenses, and I could never be more thankful. As a competitive dancer, glasses were not the best solution for my leaps and turns. Using contact lenses helped me become the confident dancer I was before having to wear glasses. After learning that they had also graduated from UHCO, my dreams were set.
What did you do to be a good Optometry school applicant?
I honestly believe that my extracurricular activities and personality made me a good applicant. Yes, I passed all of my prerequisites and made sure to get above the average OAT (Optometry Admissions Test) from the previous class just to be safe, but I believe an outstanding personality and great people skills get you further than your GPA whether it be application for graduate school or life in general. GPA is only a number that everyone will forget about a year after graduation. With my heavy involvement of non-academic and academic organizations, I truly believe that I stood out from students that solely focused on graduating Summa Cum Laude.
What advice would you give to a freshman pre-optometry student?
Extracurriculars. Extracurriculars. Extracurriculars. You need to be able to stand out from a crowd of geniuses. Make them want you because of who you are as a person. Try to shadow a couple of Optometrists and get some work experience in at least one office if not more. Make sure that this is the profession that you can be passionate about for the rest of your life. Every practice will be different, so the more experience you have going into applications the merrier!
How have you managed to balance school/ relationships/self care since starting school?
I have an interesting personality of being very schedule oriented but also willing to go with the flow. School always comes first, but everyone needs a break every once in awhile. I laugh at my past self because I remember telling my mom, “I’ve never been JUST a student. I’ve always been part of a team, doing this and that. School will NOT consume my life.” Little did I know, Optometry school does consume your life, but when you have a passion for something, that’s okay! I force myself to find time for my friends and family because that is what keeps me sane while managing 20 course hours.
Are you interested in any specific specialty?
If I were to specialize after graduation, I would either apply for a Pediatrics or Cornea and Contact Lens residency at UHCO. After working for multiple optometrists, I have found that some are completely happy without any kind of specialty.
What does your ideal career look like?
I would not mind working under Texas State Optical (TSO) for a couple of years to get some experience. Eventually, I would like to open my own private practice or group practice with other Optometrists.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I might be in Texas. I might not. I do see myself working in a stable, successful practice, but not necessarily my own. Hopefully I’ll be married by then. I will go wherever life takes me. I live life by my favorite quote: “Life is a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller
What sacrifices have you made for your career?
In the future, I think I will have to sacrifice time with family and friends towards the beginning of my career. Although we have been told numerous times that the city we choose to practice in makes a world of a difference in our happiness, I would not be surprised if I had to make a sacrifice in the city that I practice in the first couple of years after graduation. I may not be completely satisfied with the area that I am in, but I believe that further in the future I will find the perfect city to practice and raise a family in.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I just went to Washington D.C. for the first time ever in June, and I have realized that there is still so much of this country that I haven’t seen. One item on my bucket list is to visit all 50 states, and I am now up to 20. I think that is a fair amount, and I still feel like I need to travel more every time I visit a new state. I’ve been out of the country 5 times and also wish to visit every continent (except Antarctica) in the future. There is so much in the world to explore. As a young adult, I hope that in the future I do not get tied down to my career to where I cannot see what else is out there waiting for me.