California was not the place Christina Derme thought it would be.
"I thought it was going to be like a dream come true -- with the weather and the palm trees and the beaches and all of that. And of course, that was a huge draw," she said. "I found out it's not all like that stereotypical image, with the traffic and the smog and all the unpleasant things about it."
The main thing she didn't like, though, was that it wasn't home. And for a long time, she and her husband, Carlos Martinez, felt a little bit lost. And they didn't know if they would stay.
Those times have passed.
These days, Christina Derme looks and lives like she has always been on the West Coast. The president of the Kenmore East Class of 1987 is now a professor at California State University at Long Beach, teaching communication theory and oral persuasion classes. She has lived in Long Beach for the past nine years with her husband, an ophthalmologist with his own practice. They have a 3-year-old son, Michael.
She lives in a Spanish-style villa within walking distance of the beach. Every room of her home has original detailing, whether it's stained-glass windows, beveled ceilings and archways, or a wall-sized picture window with wrought iron detail.
A fragrant and colorful rose-lined driveway leads to the terra-cotta-roofed house. The backyard has lime, lemon, kumquat and avocado trees -- to name a few.
Every sight and smell seems to scream Southern California. But talk with Derme awhile, and a little Western New York comes out.
"I still call Buffalo home, and I always will," she said.
Candace McCune, one of Derme's students, said Derme couldn't deny her heritage, even if she wanted to.
"When she's lecturing, her accent comes out," McCune said.
Following high school graduation, Derme was inspired by a Brockport State College professor to consider a career in teaching, but she didn't follow that dream until years later.
After obtaining her undergraduate degree from Brockport in communication, Derme went to work at the Arthritis Foundation and the American Heart Association. She decided the traditional work routine wasn't for her.
"The 9 to 5 thing I found really difficult," she said.
That's when she decided to take her mentor's advice and went back to school -- to the University at Buffalo -- to earn a master's degree and a doctorate in communications.
"I knew my goal was to teach, and it crystallized," she said.
Like many Buffalo transplants, Derme misses her family and the sense of community that she knew as a child.
However, since she's lived in Long Beach, family has never been far away. Her sister Erin, who has a 9-month-old daughter, has lived in Los Angeles for 12 years and will probably stay in Southern California for a while, Derme said. One of her brothers lived in Los Angeles for 12 years before moving back to the Buffalo area recently because his wife gave birth to twins, and they wanted to be near a family support system.
Her other brother lived nearby for a time but returned to Buffalo a few years ago. He's getting married in Buffalo this summer.
Derme and her husband have talked about doing the same thing, but it doesn't get much further than talk.
"The economy -- if that would change, I'd be back in a heartbeat," she said. "Out here, we have a better chance of our son staying here when he graduates."
These days, the California dream she had feels like it's coming true.
About a year ago, she and her husband finally started to feel that sense of belonging they had longed for. It was soon after they moved into the house they now live in, in a neighborhood where all the kids come out to play together after dinner.
Derme can pinpoint almost exactly when she started to feel like she was where she belonged.
"We were in our new house for one month. There was a big Christmas parade they have in this little area called Belmont Shore, which is a couple blocks from where we live, and the whole street got together and walked down to the parade. And I said to my neighbor, 'I feel like I'm in Buffalo.' For the first time, I feel like I actually have community."