In August 2017, I made a big change: I moved clear across the country from Honolulu, Hawaii to live at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Though I would be very far away from my family and most of my friends, I was excited to be surrounded by new people in a place that I knew would challenge me in the best ways. I boarded a plane with two suitcases of clothes and two bags of items (mostly books) that I thought I might need during my first semester.
In August 2018, now a Swat veteran, I prepared to move into a dorm again. This time, though, I departed in a car rather than a plane, and drove about ten minutes to get to where I would be living for the year. During that summer, my family had relocated from Honolulu to Swarthmore, PA. My dad is starting a high school in Philadelphia, and my mom now teaches in Wilmington, Delaware, so Swarthmore was the perfect in-between location, not to mention the fact that my mom had gone to Swat and always dreamed of coming back and living in the town one day. They didn’t come only to be close to me, though that was the end result. Because of the vast shift in proximity, my first and second years of life at Swarthmore were quite different experiences. My family’s distance from my school for my first year of college and its extreme nearness to campus my second year taught me a lot about the pros and cons of both.
Year 1: Home in Honolulu
My first year of college was an exciting new experience. I had never been away from my family for such a long time, and it was cool to have a lot more independence than I was used to. My distance from my family meant that I really was on my own to make decisions about what I would do on weekends and during short breaks. I was fully in charge of my own schedule for the first time in my life. In this sense, it was nice to be far from my family as I figured out what it meant to be on my own.
I also enjoyed the experience of traveling around on my own without needing to consider the needs of anyone else; I was able to decide spontaneously to go to Boston halfway through my fall break, which was not something I had not been able to do before.
That being said, there were some drawbacks to being so far from family; chiefly, of course, was the fact that I was not able to see them in person except for winter and summer breaks and when they came to the east coast. On short breaks and minor holidays like Thanksgiving, I traveled to nearby family instead.
Being far away from home also meant that I had a long way to travel when I did go home, which was not fun. It also meant that I had to be very selective about what I brought to school. I was lucky even to be able to bring two suitcases. We bought most of the practical dorm items (i.e. bedding, trash can, shampoo) once we arrived in Pennsylvania so that I could focus on bringing things from home that were important to me.
For those of you who live in faraway places, here are my recommendations:
- If you find yourself missing home a lot, video call with your family or friends regularly. It will help with homesickness, and will also assure them, especially in your first few semesters, that you are surviving on your own. My family and I had a standing appointment to FaceTime every other week, and it was a nice way to mark the passage of time aside from just being generally enjoyable. We would count down each time how many more calls were left before I came home.
- When traveling to college, bring only essentials like clothes and personal items from home. Do the rest of the shopping when you’re closer so that you don’t have to carry a lot on your trip. I definitely was optimistic with the amount of books I brought; if I was doing it again I would’ve left most of them at home and used the remaining space to bring a few other posters and things to remind me of home instead.
- Staying on campus for breaks can be fun. I spent a lot of my spring break on Swat’s campus rather than traveling anywhere. While visiting extended family for fall break and Thanksgiving was fun, travel was expensive and I was feeling lazy. I thought it might not really feel like a break to stay on campus during the break, but when it’s 75% empty, there’s a really different feel. The atmosphere was a lot more relaxed and slow than I was used to, so there was a really nice change of pace even in just staying on campus.
- Make your school your home. Decorating your dorm room with things that remind you of where you’re from is one way to do this, but you should also make sure you’re out and exploring the area so that it becomes familiar. I realized how much the entire campus of Swarthmore—and even Philadelphia, to some extent—had become my home when I took the bus back from Washington, D.C. where I had spent Thanksgiving with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I was excited to get back to a place where I knew the environment thoroughly, and I knew what to expect there.
Year 2: A Stroll Back Home
In July 2018, my family made the move to Swarthmore, PA. Specifically, we relocated about a block from the nearest dorm buildings. I had known this was coming; my parents had told me that they planned on moving when they had dropped me off at the beginning of my first year. I had even taken a look at some of the houses for sale for them. Nevertheless, it didn’t hit me until we spent some time at the house exactly how close my parents and siblings would be to my school life. I have to admit, I was a little worried about what that would be like. Would I be expected to come home on a regular basis? Would they want me to babysit my infant brother all the time? Would I be seeing them on campus a lot? Luckily, my parents understood my concerns, and they were very good about setting boundaries for themselves. They told me they wouldn’t come on campus while semesters were underway unless I invited them to see some of my theatre work. We also decided together that the only time I would see them regularly was for a monthly dinner, which I could bring my friends to if I wanted.
With those boundaries in place, my mind was eased. Move-in was certainly easier; I didn’t have to agonize over every single thing I was going to bring to school with me because I could bring it by the carload, and it was easy to drop by the house if I realized I’d forgotten something. The following year was fairly similar in most ways to my first. In a few key ways, however, my lifestyle had changed pretty significantly. For instance, I no longer FaceTimed my family every other week. Instead, I came to spend time with them roughly once a month (more if I wanted, or less if I was busy). Usually, I brought friends, who my family all adored. In addition to this, I actually was employed by my parents to take our dog outside during the day while everyone was at school and work. And, of course, it was much easier to get home for breaks. Usually, I pack a duffel bag and walk through campus and then through the town of Swarthmore to get to my house. It’s much better then getting on a plane!
For those of you who live very near to your schools, here are my recommendations:
- Establish boundaries early. Make sure that you and your family are on the same page with regards to how often you see one another and where you are and aren’t okay with running into them. If my parents hadn’t had this conversation with me, I wouldn’t have known to do it, but I am so grateful that they did because that conversation and the laying down of ground rules kept my college life intact and separate from my home life
- Don’t be too reliant on coming home a lot. I tried not to be at my house when I didn’t need to be, which was good. Otherwise, I started to go into my break mode a little bit. This didn’t happen so much when I was home alone with our dog since my family wasn’t there. I didn’t leave anything at home if I could help it, and I did all my laundry at my dorm (since it’s free there anyway). This ensured that not only did my school time feel more like school time, but my breaks felt more like real breaks, and not just extended stays in a place I already spent time during the year.
- Still be practical with how much you bring to school. I brought a lot more clothes from home my second year because I could, but a lot of them sat unworn in my closet the entire time. You should still be measured about what you bring to school. Just because you can bring it doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. Your room won’t feel like a haven if it’s over-cluttered with things you thought you’d use.
- Don’t block your family out entirely. While it is of the utmost importance to have boundaries, you should still make sure to include the people you care about in your life when possible. Even if monthly dinners aren’t your thing, at least invite your family (or the members you like, anyway) to opportunities to see your performances, games, or whatever of yours they might be interested in.
I’ve loved my time at Swarthmore, and whether from near or far, it’s easy to make a home here. Though your home base’s distance from Swat can change your relationship with it, the school provides all the resources and support you might need wherever you come from.