The return to school after summer vacation is a yearly occurrence we are all familiar with, or at least have been familiar with at some point in our lives.
It started way back when, after that first year of kindergarten, and since then you’ve known the feelings you associate with the sudden switch from days filled with too much sun and fewer responsibilities to days that keep you locked into routine and mostly indoors.
Whether this annual change be something you looked forward to or something you dreaded, it can be surmised that the process of “going back to school” is just that — a process. A process we may often think is the same for all parts involved.
Certainly the process was written in stone when everyone was young. We would receive a letter with our teacher’s name, accompanied by a list twelve miles long that listed all of the school supplies that would be broken or lost by years end and show up that first day of school wearing new tennis shoes, looking for your best friend from the previous year.
The rest of the year tended to be equally as predictable. As nerve-wracking or exciting as this was to you, it was definitely nothing new once you got the hang of it. The process continued throughout elementary school, was tweaked slightly for middle school and a bit more for high school. Then college arrived and the process was thrown out of the window.
If you watched enough movies as a kid, the process of entering or returning to college, while completely different than any you’ve experienced, is easy enough to grasp.
It’s not foreign by any means, rather something you’ve been watching for years, and have finally decided to take a shot at it yourself. Instead of buying crayons and half a dozen three-prong folders you’ll never find enough uses for, there’s dorm room shopping. There’s a packed car, a decently long drive and a depressing goodbye to your parents before they drive off, leaving you to wave goodbye to them with a sunset at your back and sad yet uplifting music playing…
Did I get that right? If not, sorry, I’ve never done it before. Despite being a junior in college, I’ve never been shopping for dorm room supplies or watched my parents cry outside of said dorm. There’s this secret option in life of which television and movies seem to be ignorant; being a commuter.
I didn’t grow up thinking that when college finally arrived, I would be spending an hour of my day driving to and from that college. In my mind, I think I pictured the dorm room and the sad parents, but as college approached and time wound down, I found myself choosing a college that was in a familiar town not far from where I lived. Not always am I rational and reasonable, but in these circumstances, I was. It only made sense for me to live at home and commute to campus for my classes everyday.
With two years down, and two more to go, I know I made the right choice. I’m more focused and driven living in a home where I have people to encourage and support me. There’s always food in the refrigerator and someone who doesn’t mind quizzing me on two hundred flashcards down the hall.
But in a society where we’ve been predisposed to what a “normal” college experience looks like, being a commuter at your university can present you with obstacles and daily struggles that the masses aren’t aware exist. My return to college isn’t the gradual pack up and move in that most college students subscribe to, but rather a sudden jump back into a routine that I made up myself.
A commuter returning to school has to be conscious of their schedule. Breaks too long between classes with no dorm room to nap in are unfortunate. Knowing a good place for this downtime is essential. An 8:00 a.m. class isn’t the same for you as it is for someone who lives on campus.
If someone wants to hang out that evening after all of their classes are over, there’s always the internal debate of whether it’s worth the gas and time to go home for those couple of hours. When winter comes and the snow is falling at your house but not on campus, you have to decide if what you’re missing in class is more important than your life, or hope your professor is just as far away and terrified of driving through snow as you are.
Case and point, the return to school — and the whole school year, for that matter — is filled with wildly different experiences and hurdles than the “typical” college student may encounter. Society has gotten us thinking there is a normal way — a right way — to go about this college experience, but the truth is that there are multiple alternatives. As we make the jump back into this new semester, be conscious that no one is doing college the same way as you. We return each year in different manners, accompanied by different goals and ambitions for the coming months.