At some point at the end of last spring semester I needed to cry. I was stressed out from studying, summer plans, relationship issues, and existential crises.
I was emotionally prepared for a great cry. I freed my schedule, but as I was finalizing the plans, there was no place to go. I didn’t want to be in the lounge where someone I recognized might ask, “What’s wrong?”, I didn’t want to be outside somewhere with the same risk, and I definitely didn’t want to be in my room where my roommate might see me and feel socially obligated to address the situation. I didn’t want to talk about anything or have anyone help me. I just wanted to cry. And I couldn’t. I had to walk down Sixth Street until I got to a few blocks away when I could finally let the tears drop.
This was a problem. It was one of the main factors that prompted my off-campus move during my sophomore year. There wasn’t much consideration about my move–I just had some friends who asked if I wanted to live with them. And, although it was a pretty spontaneous decision, since then I’ve been able to reflect on my experience.
The greatest part about living off campus is that I’ve had space to be alone and independent. Living in a single provides students with solitude, but it doesn’t allow them to escape the controlling atmosphere of this college (i.e. the loud music three nights a week and the synchronized schedule that comes hand in hand with having the dining hall open for six hours a day). Staying in a house with a kitchen, my own room, three housemates, and a shared common space gave me the option to enter and exit the bubble after a three-minute-long board ride. With the ability to come in and out of the bubble, I’ve left behind the obligation that I felt last year to smile at everyone I passed, never eat meals alone, go out every Thursday and Saturday, and always be productive. I felt each of these pressures for different reasons. I felt the need to smile at everyone because (usually) they were smiling at me. I felt the need to go out because of an anxiety of missing out on a good time. I felt the need to be productive because I was constantly comparing myself to my peers. Whether I felt these obligations from living on campus or just being a freshman in a new place, they’re now gone. With the release of these obligations and an escape from a single-minded environment that pushes priorities that are not my own, my independence has taken its place. (Check out my opinions about being alone).
Living away from the school allows me to go to campus, talk to people I know (and many people I don’t) until I’m emotionally exhausted, and then get away to recharge my batteries for a whole evening. At home I can write or read or just sit in my room watching the fan. The introvert in me relishes my free time, and the extrovert in me has time to recharge for my next excursion to campus. With a more balanced appreciation for the two undeniable parts of me, both are able to flourish. When I’m on campus, I have the energy and enthusiasm to devote all of myself to a conversation. I want to hear what my friends have to say, and I want to respond with just as much consideration.
I’ve also spent my time very differently since moving off campus. I think CMC is the most friendly and caring environment I have ever been a part of. Yet, because of that, my time vanishes when I’m on campus. Somehow greeting people takes up twenty-minute intervals, conversations last for hours, and meals take hours more. Living off campus comes with fewer distractions. This makes it easier to pull out my readings or essays and dive right in.
When my housemates and I first met with my new landlord, my mom gave me a list of questions to ask: “Are utilities included? Is Wi-Fi included? Where can we do laundry? What’s parking like?” I only realized how much was done for me living on campus after I moved off campus. In the past semester I’ve learned how to use a plunger, call the gas company, and do dishes frequently. I’m forced to budget my time to go grocery shopping, cook meals, and keep the house clean. Although the responsibility may not be as fun, I’ve taken a necessary step towards my independence.
My house may be unique, but what makes it even more special is that I’m sharing it with an eclectic group of housemates of different ages, genders, and schools. As a result of this diversity, the house takes on a life of its own. I never know who’s going to be at the house when I arrive. Sometimes I come home and the living room is filled with the music of a harmonica player, a violinist, a drummer, and a harpist. Sometimes I come home to the smell of home-cooked food and a kitchen filled with friends. With each group of changing people, the conversation changes (why On The Loose cancelled its speedo hike, CMC’s ever-changing alcohol policy, etc.). What’s important is that within our own space, my housemates and I have been able to create the environment we want to live in. We don’t have to fit our habits into the pre-existing atmosphere of North Quad, Mid Quad, or South Quad.
And now there’s been a shift. I think during my first year I rejected the privileged elitism that this college represented. I rejected that we had the opportunity to extend childhood when most of the world’s 18-year-olds graduate from high school and are thrown into real life, working whatever job they can find. Drastically different, CMC has a student club with $1.7 million to invest, which is run by and comprised of students who don’t cook their own food or clean their own rooms. Once I decided to move off campus, I realized I had been living in a state of rejection of this aspect of CMC.
After winter break, though, my opinions changed. I acknowledged the existence of the privileged utopia that is college, but now I want to embrace it rather than deny it. And this leads me to the downsides of living off campus. Spontaneity isn’t ever-present. I can’t leave my door open and never know who will wander by and where that conversation will lead me. I have to make a very conscious effort to go out or explore. And by the time I’m on campus or at whichever destination I’m heading to, I already have a certain expectation for the expedition.
I’m also undeniably removed from the campus experience. With even a very short distance comes the decision of whether or not to trek the block to campus, and often the answer is “no.” It feels like if I want to be on campus, I need a reason to be there. That thought itself can make me feel very removed, and it leads to a sense of isolation.
I find myself more frequently remembering the careless behavior of last year, which often seemed to stem from living on campus. And, although these are four years that many others don’t have the privilege to experience, I would like to relish my immaturity just a couple semesters longer. I’m extremely glad I ended up living off campus for my sophomore year, but I think in the year that follows it may be time to come back.
The CMC living situation makes it very difficult for students to create the type of environment they want to live in. Instead, if people don’t immediately fit within the social confines of where they have ended up, they are forced to try their hand at rebelling against their quad or conforming under tacit pressure. It’s hard not to be influenced by our surroundings when we live in such close quarters, but I advise other CMCers to take a critical look at how their environment is affecting them, and to determine whether it’s a positive catalyst in their lives. If it isn’t, there are ways to change it, even though it may take some courage, tenacity, and trial and error.