Living Off-Campus in My First Year

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Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash.

First year is one of the most impactful years for a freshly-minted high school-grad, and where you live further defines your experience. When I was applying, only a short two years ago, it seemed evident to me that as a first-year, you lived in residence; I wasn’t very aware of the other options available. Living on campus can be the transitionary cocoon between living at home and living with your new-found independence. Some students are ready to plunge right into the thick of things from the get-go, while others opt for living in residence because of the immersive experience.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of a choice. I was thrown into the deep end of independent living. When I was preparing for university, I did everything more than a little bit late, and by the time I got to applying for residence, I was very behind. I crossed my fingers and hoped I’d get a spot somewhere because I thought, “What first year doesn’t live on campus?” After a few weeks of waiting, my mom urged me to explore another route. I went digging for a place to rent. I didn’t have to look far to find the quaint little house that would become my roof and four walls for the next eight months and was on my way only a few weeks later. I already felt down on my luck living off-campus. I’d never heard of any first year doing so, and to make matters worse – I was scared. Before moving to Peterborough, I had never visited the campus or the city. I’d heard great things from teachers who had attended and was wooed by the landscape shots on the website and in the view book.

For the first few weeks, I was completely detached from the famed college life. I didn’t even attend orientation (but truth be told I wasn’t even aware it was happening until it was nearly done). As classes started up, I connected with a few people, some of who would become my roommates later. A lot of the first- (and second-) years I met lived on campus, and hanging out with them meant I got involved with events I wouldn’t have otherwise known about, and learned a little bit more about the campus landscape. While making on-campus friends gave me a reason to visit campus for more than just classes, I felt – and sometimes still do feel – like it was an island away from me.

I wondered if I was the only one who felt a social detachment from on-campus students at first, so I reached out to others via the TCSA app and got in touch with Madison More who gave me a new perspective on the topic. The entire time I was debating between on- and off-campus, I forgot about the option of living at home for local students attending Trent. “Reflecting back on it I think I would’ve felt more connected to college life if attempts were made to integrate me with on-campus students. I especially feel that my own unique knowledge was slighted. I’ve spent my whole life in Peterborough, like, come talk to me!” she expressed. “It would be awesome for the off-campus students (at least ones from here) to team up with on-campus students and show them around the city. I think then off-campus students would feel connected to the campus and college life, and people on campus would feel connected to the community as well because they’d have a local showing them around.”

While feeling a connection to campus, and connecting with others on it, is important, there are certain aspects of living off campus that I love and wouldn’t trade. For one, I loved that I had a kitchen. I cook a lot, so having the freedom to cook when and as often as I wanted made that much of a difference to me. Another thing I was grateful for was my location. While living on campus makes for a shorter and easier commute between classes, living only a walking distance from the Trent Express route was nothing short of a blessing. Having a smaller “community” was also a good thing in my opinion. I shared the house I lived in during first year with three other girls, which made for a quieter and more relaxed environment compared to the living spaces at the colleges, which were larger in both size and number of residents.

Where you live, who you live with, how easy your commute is, and how connected you are to the school and the rest of the student body, shapes your experience not only in first year, but all the years afterwards. Above all though, connecting with others, and the campus can really change your outlook on university as an experience. It’s very easy to distance and detach yourself when you’re living off-campus, but staying abreast of events and getting involved on campus can make you feel more connected. The difficult part is balancing your living arrangements and your experience.