For this week’s blog post, I wanted to stray away from the online web content, and instead let you in on a secret: I’m a commuter student. I’m a junior, and I’ve never technically lived on-campus… although I’ve definitely spent some all-nighters in the library. I live in Waukee with my parents, and while most of my peers would gasp and whisper, “How do you do that?!” I’ve never had an issue with it.
When most 17 year-olds think about college, they think of new experiences; reinventing themselves; moving far away and becoming independent. I thought of this too, believe me. It took me a very, very long time to decide on a college, and I went from looking at the University of Las Vegas Nevada to DePaul University in Chicago and ended up right here in Des Moines.
I actually visited Drake during my senior year during J-term, so very little students were on campus. We had limited access to most of the buildings, including the fitness center and library. Like many other college campuses, once I walked around with a tour guide, the physical campus was comforting. College campuses always feel like a safe space to me, like I’m headed in the right direction. The buildings all tell a personalized story of what the classes are like, and most have a monument (for Drake, it’s Painted Street) that represents the student body. Although it was a little spooky without many students, I could feel how my future peers would have acted if it was a regular semester.
After talking it over with my parents, friends, siblings and making endless pros and cons lists, I decided that Drake was the right fit for me. My parents decided that if I chose Drake, living on campus was not an option because of financial reasons, so if you’re wondering, no, it wasn’t my decision to stay at home (sorry, Mom and Dad). I proclaimed to my mom (with my very assertive tone), “Well, maybe I should do that.” And my life as a commuter student began.
Now, I couldn’t write an entire blog post about commuting and not rant about some of the negative aspects of living at home. I get frustrated that my friends can take a 2-minute walk back to their apartment, and I have to stay awake for an entire 20-minute drive. I live in Waukee, which according to Siri, is 16 minutes away from Drake’s campus. In order to get to class on time, I leave half an hour before the class starts. If I have an 8 a.m., I have to leave 45 minutes before the class starts to factor in possible traffic delays in the morning commute… making 8 a.m.’s even more of a struggle.
I try and only make one round trip to and from campus per day, which originally was to cut back on gas costs but now is necessary to complete all of my daily tasks. This means if I have an hour or two to kill, it’s spent nagging friends to let me nap in their apartments, studying at the library or spending too much money at coffee shops. It gets to be a nuisance and expensive, in reference to the last point.
I’m sure my parents will say that my commuting has been a little bit bothersome for them, as well. Often times on weeknights, I will come home at 1 or 2 in the morning, making a ruckus and waking them up in the middle of the night. I’ve also been known to put off eating dinner until midnight, so microwave timers tend to go off at the oddest hours.
It’s worth mentioning that I haven’t had problems with my social life while commuting. When I tell people that I live off-campus, these questions are usually prompted: “Have you lived off-campus every year? Did you have trouble making friends?” And the answer is no, I didn’t have trouble, and I still don’t now. It’s a little more difficult to get on the same bonding level as someone’s first-year roommate relationship, but I’ve had a great time meeting new people through classes, clubs and events. I have a great support system, and I couldn’t make it through college without the friends I’ve made at Drake.
The biggest issue I have with commuting is balancing all aspects of my life. When someone goes away to college, lots of times they leave their hometown family and friends behind. They call their mom once a week, FaceTime their best friend once a month, and call it good. I interact with my parents and siblings every day, and when my high school friends come home to visit, I’m there to hang out with them. I feel obligated to go to every family event, and with five siblings, this gets to be a lot. I often divide my life into categories, and it’s overwhelming to deal with and prioritize every category of my life at once. While most people start a chapter of their life, end a chapter of their life and move on to the next chapter, it feels like I’m piling on chapters to my individual life timeline without ending any of them.
I’ll start with the obvious: I’m saving a ton of money. I’m lucky enough that my parents don’t make me pay rent and let me mooch off their food (which is most of the time homemade, #blessed). Living at college is really expensive, and living in a city like Des Moines can get even more expensive than most college towns.
I can’t speak enough to what commuting has done for me in the past three years. Yes, it can be a nuisance and overwhelming, but commuting to Drake has helped me become even more of a well-rounded person. I’ve been able to keep the same job while working on a consistent basis for almost three years now, which leads to great relationships with co-workers. I have an astounding relationship with the Des Moines community. Because my dad works in Des Moines, he has set me up with professionals in Des Moines that I would have never met if I went to a college in a different city. I know the ins and outs (or at least I pretend to—I find something new in Des Moines every weekend these days) of my favorite place, and I’ll hopefully be able to contribute to those unique features of Des Moines someday.
I have an incredible relationship with my family. Not only are my parents so supportive, but my siblings are there for me, too. I’ve been able to build a real relationship with my little brother (who is 15 and not-so-little anymore), who will openly admit hated me as a child. I frequently use my sister, a graphic designer in Des Moines, as a crutch to help me in journalism classes because I have little-to-no knowledge in design. I’ve always said family comes first to me, but now I truly believe that they reciprocate that same feeling.
Turns out, it’s a funny time in my life to be writing this blog post. I just turned in a lease for the fall of 2016, and I’m ecstatic to announce I’m sharing an apartment with my best friend. I’ll always attribute traits of my personality to commuting these past three years, but I’m excited to move on and become “independent” (a.k.a. have a real budget). Who knows, maybe next year I’ll write a blog post about the diaries of living in an apartment.