Moving Away to College May Be More Complicated Than Expected

First Day of CollegeMove-in day is looming for soon-to-be college freshmen all over the country. What to pack, what to leave at home, saying good-bye to close friends, concerns about an unknown roommate(s), signing up for the “right” classes at a brand-new school, and moving out of a childhood home can make for a bittersweet time.  On the upside, all the people you’ll be jostling in line for the next cart at the residence hall move-in station will be in the same boat.  On the downside, letting go of the familiar can be an unexpected first challenge of starting college.   Yet, somewhere and sometime in the school year, adjustments will be made and a “new normal” established.

I recently spoke with Emily, a former Creative Marbles Consultancy client, who finished her first year at Cornell University in New York about moving across the country (we’re in California) and any general advice for incoming college freshmen. Her tips and story follow.

Emily’s experience on move-in day can be described as hurry-up-and-wait.  The road leading to her residence hall was backed up in stop-and-wait traffic, as families unloaded a line of cars literally for hours.  “Traffic on move-in day was crazy,” she said. By the following day of move-in, there was considerably less people, so Emily advised new students to wait a day, if possible. However, she acknowledged that the anxiety of being a day “behind” new neighbors may be more stressful than waiting in a line of traffic.

Weathering the changes can be the first lesson college offers maturing young adults into independence.  Each person will find their own techniques to cope and find their footing.  Of course, technology can be helpful.  Skype, FaceTime, and free long distance with cell phone plans can all be lifelines for those homesick moments to friends at different colleges, family, trusted mentors–as Emily’s experience confirmed.  Plus, more than one parent has reported their son or daughter texted from hundreds of miles away that s/he was hungry for lunch, as if mom or dad could rush over with a brown bag meal. (The kid isn’t really expecting lunch to show up; the electronic connection is a simple “security blanket” to help bring comfort.)   Also, through online shopping, Emily ordered bedding, lamps, household items from Bed, Bath & Beyond, while home in Sacramento, CA, requesting her order to be shipped and available in Ithaca, NY.  Then, she and her mom picked up her order across the country at the local store, rather than shipping the stuff themselves–saving costs and time packing.  (Emily added a warning: before purchasing items, be sure to check college housing policies about “banned” items from on-campus residence halls. I’ve also been hearing rumors that “traditional” dorm appliances, like rice cookers, are being banned as fire hazards.)

Making friends is an additional concern shared by many soon-to-be college freshmen.  As Emily learned, neighbors often leave their doors ajar when home in the residence hall, creating an open invitation to meet new people.  So, concerns about making new connections may not be as challenging as imagined.  Emily’s experience was the opposite; she found she met new people each week, and what took time was establishing a single group of new friends.  She found that joining clubs was helpful, since all the members already shared similar values and passions.  Eventually, life settled and new routines were established.

The fears about the unknown are common, yet working through them will be an individual endeavor.  “Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid,” said Marie Colvin, a Foreign Correspondent,who was killed in Syria, February 2012.  Although college is a far cry from a battlefield, Ms. Colvin’s sentiments can help emerging young adults continue establishing a new home for themselves at college, by acknowledging their concerns and working with fears, not denying they exist–using whatever technology and tools needed.  And, in a pinch, parents can send an old fashioned care package to brighten a college freshman’s day; the added bonus is mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies can help attract new friends.

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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