Home. That is a big thing to give up. The people and places you lean on your whole life until the start of university are familiar, and safe, and dependable. In this article, I’ll discuss how a place, a university town or campus, becomes a home, with all the comforts of the support system one grows up knowing.
It is totally understandable to be afraid of leaving home behind – the unknown is scary. It is this concept alone that single-handedly halts many a student’s journey to study at a university in an international location. It’s scary, the thoughts of not knowing anyone, stupid things like having no old inside jokes with people or a doctor who you don’t feel awkward around, or the bigger things like the strange culture and new work and education systems. These comforts are important because, in my experience, challenges in one’s early adulthood years are inevitable and incredibly formative. I have personally been (not-so-gently) guided into much self-discovery and reflection.
When I arrived at university, I had mentally prepared myself to deal with the challenges of this new experience alone, and being someone who has always clung tightly to their independence, I planned carefully how I would systematically address making friends, getting good grades, and keeping in touch with home. What I did not expect was the support offered at every turn. Although I can’t speak for every institution, within the first week of university I found myself offered free counselling sessions for my psychological needs, an advocate at the Disability Resource Centre to offer me transport and accommodations for my classes, immediate care for any of my physiological needs at University Health Services, and meetings with an advocate for the Dean’s office should I need anything not covered by these services. Matthew, Elizabeth, Dr Ho and Mr Hollis each developed personal relationships with me of their own accord, and I continue to receive regular check-in messages from them often. Also worth a very special mention is my incredible academic advisor, Logan, who has dealt with many a crisis-of-life-direction discussion on my part.
Perhaps even more important, though, than the superficial challenges needing to be dealt with at university, is the challenge of finding balance and inner wellbeing, emotional support and happiness. I felt an outsider in high school because I chased independence and big dreams. I was privileged to be offered a job at my university at the on-campus gym, where I have met some of my best friends and found a community. In my cultural anthropology class, I met like-minded students who enjoyed the controversial discussions as much as I did, and in the dorms, I had incredible bonding experiences over defective online homework portals and monotonous dining hall food.
A week, two weeks and a month passed, and I went to football games with my new friends and settled down into my classes. I remember the first time when I was walking back to my dorm after a shift at the gym when it occurred to me that I was not alone, that I had a family, and that I had added value to my life by taking the leap of faith to move overseas. I became aware that there were people who cared about me, who invited me to football with them but also would surprise me at my dorm just to check how I was really doing, emotionally. Or just sit and watch the Oscars with me in the common room.
Oscars, overworking or organic biology, I don’t regret for one second the risk that I took leaving behind everything I knew. I have grown emotionally and made great progress towards life milestones like buying my first car and getting my first promotion. In conclusion, if I can do it, so can you. Take a leap of faith – I believe in you!
By Tali Sulcas