Claire Voltarel, Campus Carrier News Editor
Growing up as an only child in the suburbs of Chicago, I inevitably grew to be best friends with my parents, and as a result I am the quintessential homebody. Not to say that I am shy or antisocial, but I often chose family TV time on my living room couch over a night out with friends. Any freshmen’s first year at college requires a lot of adjustments, and relocating 700 miles to Berry was a difficult transition to say the least. I envy friends who are able to visit home in an hour’s time, eat lunch with family during the week or enjoy parent visits frequently on weekends. While my family makes a valiant effort to come to Rome a few times a semester, it just is not the same.
However, in looking back on my three years here at Berry, I owe a majority of my growth to this distance. Being far from home has forced me to find resources close by, ultimately enhancing my social life, and giving me an appreciation for a new place I now call my home.
For most students, college comes with a family-style side order of tests, and I don’t mean academic ones. From challenges of mental illness, balancing life on our own and managing work, school and social stress, students face many situations to a higher degree than ever before. When these situations arise, my first instinct is to hop on a plane and head home. Obviously, this trip is not easy on my bank account or my time. Thus, I had to overcome adversity on my own. I learned how to weigh my options, make tough choices and push through to move on to my next battle. As a result, I’ve matured drastically in my ability to handle difficult situations, instead of escaping to the comfort of my home. Had my parents been virtually next door, I would have had the luxury of evasion, but instead I overcame and benefited from the process.
This adversity plus distance has also encouraged me to utilize social support and practice branching out. I founded strong relationships in order to have a shoulder to cry and lean on in times of struggle. My relationships grew faster and more solid, for they were just as much a necessity as they were fun. Now, I have lifelong friends who have seen me at my best and my worst, who know how to take care of me, as I do for them. Being forced to stay here on weekends allowed me the opportunities to spend quality time with peers. Instead of going home, I have been able to take trips, attend Berry events and overall make memories I will never forget (pardon the cheesiness). Through these trips I have built relationships with my friend’s families who live near as well. Whether it’s the Easter I spent with my roommate’s family, or spring break at my suitemate’s Dad’s house, I now have new adults who serve as friends, mentors and my home away from home.
Finally, being so far away has allowed me to experience a culture I had yet to be exposed to before Berry. For a variety of the reasons, Chicago is a much different climate (both in the weather and values) than many places in Georgia, so I had a few preconceived ideas on what life in the South would be like. It has been fascinating to find what stigmas hold true (Atlanta drivers), and which are oversimplified. Obviously, I am not a professional in Southern hospitality, so my experience is still limited, and I am not in a position to confirm or deny any stereotype. However, my peers are always amused by comparing differences in terms and saying used in our hometowns or discussing the drastically different weather conditions.
But above all, I did not expect to find that so many people here are more similar to me than different. It has been a strange but blessed sensation to find commonalities between people from many different regions of the country. In the end, we are all enduring struggles and that is the only similarity sticky enough to bind us together as peers. Anyone considering moving or just visiting a faraway place should enter with a willingness to ask for help, a positive attitude and an open mind. And if you’re ever in Chicago, do not put ketchup on your hotdog.