You’re not the only one: Getting used to a new ‘home’
When I told my parents of my interest in Washington University, one of their first questions was “Where’s that?” Revealing the fact that it’s all the way in Missouri, they (understandably) admitted some concerns. As far as they were aware, I was going to study at The Ohio State University, or at least some nearby liberal arts college. I, on the other hand, was all gung-ho about getting out of the state. Now, it’s not as though I’m planning on forsaking Ohio, because there are tons of things I love about it. I simply felt as though I needed a change in atmosphere, perhaps a bit out of my comfort zone. So, I figured that moving a few states over for college would be a reasonably-sized step for that desire.
Yet, even after only spending four days on campus, I have come to realize that the transition is going to be much more than just that 412.9-mile flight. For other incoming freshman, I’m sure you do, or will, understand what I mean.
Firstly, let me give you a quick visual of my hometown, Hilliard, Ohio. It’s a weird mixture of rural and suburban. While it isn’t in the middle of nowhere, there is a substantial amount of farmland. My high school, Bradley High, was built out in that area of town. It’s actually bordered by cornfields, with the stalks acting as a fence between us and the rest of civilization. And, for whatever reason, a number of our fields for sporting events were “strategically” placed right next to them. There’s no concrete number of how many stray balls have been lost to that unforgiving void of grain. And don’t even get me started on getting stuck driving behind a tractor or horse-back rider before and after school.
In contrast, coming to Wash. U. has been highlighted by a few particular differences. One is the area that campus is in. That’s not to say I’m not completely unfamiliar to being in a large city— Columbus is only a 15-minute drive away, so I’ve often spent weekends downtown with friends—but I’ve never had to revolve my personal lifestyle around that sort of atmosphere. At the end of the day, I’m accustomed to going home to a sleepy neighborhood. Now, on a busy college campus smack dab in the middle of St. Louis, there’s been a substantial increase in the intensity of energy as I go about my day.
Getting around the city is another puzzle I’ve yet to figure out. For one, I have no idea where anything is. While we’re encouraged to get off campus and explore, I can’t help but get anxious about getting lost. Second is transportation. If I had to go anywhere back home, I just drove myself in my trusty Jeep Wrangler (who I lovingly call Gerta). Here, that option isn’t as readily available for freshmen. True, there’s the Enterprise CarShare, but I’d rather not rely on that for everywhere I go, especially when we get a free U-Pass. Yet, as I’m sure others in the same position do, I fear getting on the wrong bus or train and ending up an hour away.
However, there’s one particular variable regarding my social life that I hadn’t thought would be a factor: money.
Wash. U. has acknowledged a significant disparity between the socioeconomic statuses of it’s student population. I myself come from a middle-class background and am a member of the school’s Deneb Stars program. I’ve never really spent much time pondering such a topic; a majority of my school’s population, as well as of my friends, were in the same boat as I am. I was in a bubble when it came to interacting with different economic backgrounds.
It’s become apparent that that won’t be the case here. Already, I’ve interacted with people with vastly different upbringings. A number of students I met have had resources that weren’t available to me, be it the institution they went to or the amount of outside aid they could access when it came to college prep. The same could be said of me by other students, depending on their own experience. Money can have such a huge impact upon what someone considers normal, which is an idea I hadn’t had to explore much before.
I plan on prioritizing books and tuition financially. Now, it isn’t like I don’t plan on treating myself and having a fun time outside of campus. It just means I can’t eat out every night or constantly give in to my love of bold windbreakers. I won’t lie, though: I’m leery about how that factor might affect possible friendships I make. For example, say I find myself in a group with a bunch of amazing people and they want to go out and do something more expensive than I’m comfortable with. While I wouldn’t want to hold them back from having an amazing time together, it’d be disappointing to miss out on that opportunity to spend time with them. This may not happen, but the fact that it could is enough to make me worry.
Combining a complete change of scenery and the inevitable culture shocks, it’s valid to say I have a number of fears. Yet, despite the late night anxiety they cause, they also serve as bases for goals. As of today, a few include: Connect with people I never had the opportunity to meet before; determine the best Korean restaurant in St. Louis; and absolutely conquer the Metro system. Will all of them happen this year? Likely not. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to at least take steps forward in them.