It’s funny how as life goes on, the promises you make to yourself turn into New Years resolutions: you start out so certain, but over time they fade into the back of your mind and you very rarely stick to them. The things you are convinced will never change are the ones most likely to. At the very least, that’s how it’s been for me. The little girl who swore that she was going to be a ballerina is now the last person you’d see on the dancefloor. The girl who was adamant that she would never want a tattoo now has four. The girl who had sworn that she would never, ever, EVER live at home for university is now doing just that. Even more shocking- she loves it.
There was a time when I saw myself leaving home and never looking back. I imagined that moving into residence would make me 100% independent and that would be the beginning of my adult life. In a way, I was right. Moving into my flat in Cardiff, an ocean away from my family with the kind of optimism that makes a fool of good intentions, made me independent in many ways. Living in res means that you are suddenly responsible for making sure you have food in the fridge, that you have clean socks, that your work is done and that you don’t sleep through your morning classes. It took a bit of trial and error to get it quite right, but it was an experience I’m grateful for.
My experience of living in halls was nothing like the stories I had been spoon fed by my Facebook news feed and stories from mynon-gap-year friends. My apartment building was startlingly quiet and unfriendly. I was shocked to discover that my new neighbours were not prone to getting to know the surrounding apartments. My flatmates and I, though we coexisted in harmony, did not become the surrogate family I had been led to believe we automatically would. That year, I learned that not everything lives up to the hype. I learned that that’s okay.
Let me give you a bit of background context. I come from a family of four, the eldest of three sassy, shade throwing, big, bright and bubbly personalities- of which I am by far the least of all these adjectives.
We are the family that always had music in the kitchen, always had people dropping by, always had an unorthodox pet wandering around causing trouble (currently a house trained rabbit who sleeps under the bathtub, but it used to be a one-legged chicken). We are the people who live in each other’s pockets, the people who never really learned the concept of privacy but always understood that family comes first.
Moving out was a revelation. If I put something on my desk, it would stay there! If I felt like going to buy a chicken wrap at 2am, I could do so! If I felt like sleeping in til the afternoon, nobody would be there to wake me… Though this wasn’t always a good thing. But on the other side of the coin, when I had nothing to wear on a night out, there was nobody to borrow from. When I came home exhausted, as I so often did, there was nobody to make me a cup of tea. When I was discharged from hospital and needed to eat before I could take my medication, I had to risk my shaking fingers to wield a kitchen knife over my ingredients. There was no one to keep me company in those long, empty days of painful recuperation. Peace and privacy had been two things I had dreamt of: they became my biggest obstacles in those days.
So when I decided at 3am one morning in the middle of the summer that I absolutely could not risk living so far away from my family in case my kidney should rear it’s ugly head again, I also had my doubts whether I could adjust to living at home again. After all, I had always insisted that the commuting life was not for me. In my mind, it would mean regression from adult to child.
Funny thing is, living at home is suiting me just fine. I’m still an adult. A slightly lazier one when it comes to laundry, but an adult nonetheless. Yes, of course, it had taken some getting used to- for myself and for my family. The struggle of making an hour+ commute to and from university is very, very real- especially after being able to roll out of bed and practically land in my lecture hall last year.
I am forced to make an effort in order to have a social life (although for a hermit like me, that’s not so much of a big change). I spend more time than I’d like to on the subway.
Moving back home made me face some forgotten truths: I had forgotten that if I can’t find my grey fishtail top, I can usually find it on my mum. My siblings had forgotten that I lock myself out of the house on a regular basis. They had forgotten how absent-minded and irritating I am. I had forgotten how sassy they are.
But on the plus side, there is music in the kitchen. There are people dropping by. The bunny will hop towards you if you call her name and when I come home exhausted, there is always someone there to put the kettle on. Living off campus means that I have to be up at 6 to make a 9am class, and that I feel a lot less “cool” than I used to. But it also means that the responsibility of keeping house is divided by four. It means that when I have nothing to wear, I have three other wardrobes to dip into. And best of all- I get my mum’s amazing cooking every day. I dropped two full dress sizes in my first semester of first year. This is something I am in no danger of anymore.
Living on res and commuting both offer wonderful advantages. They are very different experiences, and for some, one might be preferable to the other. But coming from someone who’s done both, I can promise you that living at home will not hold you back from living uni life to the fullest. The only thing that can possibly hold you back is you. I personally found that living on campus can be so convenient that it can limit the amount of time you spend in your actual city- if you let it. It can cut you off from your extended community- if you let it. Contrarily, living at home can limit your involvement on campus… If you let it. You see where I’m going with this, right? Ultimately, it isn’t about the hand you are dealt or the choices you make: it’s how you play the game.