As the end of February draws nigh, sophomores and juniors start facing the age-old question: to live on- or off-campus? This decision necessarily demands some tough questions. Who (would you want to live with)? What (is life like as an “adult”)? Where (would you even start trying to get an apartment)? When (to start looking)? And finally, Why (move)? Many people have really legitimate reasons to stay on-campus — a residential college community, financial considerations or a job that demands a residential college address, such as a master’s aide or freshmen counselor.
Yet many of us also consider another factor: inconvenience. It’s not an unfounded issue — living off-campus is objectively more inconvenient. In moving off-campus, we “keep house” as we play-act at adulthood. And yes, daily chores take time. But if inconvenience is the only reason you’re staying on-campus, I’d push you to reconsider that as your deciding factor — “I don’t want to clean my own bathroom” is a pretty pathetic way to choose where you call home for the next year(s).
Living on-campus is convenient. But without the domestic responsibilities of “real life,” our dorm rooms never really feel like our homes. And so to overcome the transient anonymity of our residential college bedrooms, we decorate. We Etch A Sketch our life onto standard wooden furniture in rooms that have served as temporary homes to 80-plus years of underclassmen. And come May, in a matter of four or five stressful hours, we wipe our entire year off the room. We root and uproot so abruptly in revolving dorms filled with other people’s memories.
Personally, I have a plant to make my room feel a little more like a home. And with sub-zero temperatures a few weekends ago, I found myself desperately worried about said plant. How would my leafy friend cope with the wind chill? The lack of sunlight? Should I caulk my window? I even searched on Google “how to protect plants from frost,” and found myself on TodaysHomeowner.com — the WebMD, I quickly realized, for people with gift cards to Lowe’s. (This extremely thorough article on root protection assured me that everything would really, seriously, be just fine.) Zooming out, a plant is objectively a stupid worry. Yet it’s the only thing that would actually die without my care. And so I water my plant, give it little quarter-turns every few days so the new stems get equal sun exposure and even order sushi so I can use the chopsticks as supports for the growing leaves. It’s my dependent, my responsibility. If I do not care for my plant, no one will.
Living off-campus expands this single plant into an entire garden of responsibilities — the groceries, the batteries in the smoke alarm or the code for the Wi-Fi. Although perhaps irritating at the time, those accumulated domestic responsibilities actually make a room feel like a home. Without establishing Yale as home, these four years will feel like borrowed, sublet time. Instead of grafting ourselves on and off of this Gothic architecture in four short years, making Yale feel like home acknowledges the exchange of person and place.
Perhaps it seems like counterintuitive advice — to feel like a part of Yale, you should move out of the famed and storied residential college system. And it’s counter to what we imagine as the quintessential Yale experience. We have a script in defense of staying on-campus: “When else in your life will you get to live in a castle?” Or: “We will have our whole lives to live in apartments.” Or, my personal favorite: “We’re only here for four years!” which seems to be our catch-all explanation for pretty much anything.
And I won’t deny it — moving off-campus would interrupt certain parts of this postcard Yale college experience. You would have to work harder to hold onto your residential college community: Walking to get a bacon-egg-and-cheese at the Buttery will now have to be a conscious choice over one from GHeav — ahem, Good Nature Market. You might play less pool. The circle of people you nod at without knowing where you know them from might shrink.
But you will also be responsible to and responsible for something. Roots and responsibilities create an interaction with a space, tethering us to a greater system called Yale. Creating a real home at Yale where you cook, buy your own toilet paper and maybe even host dinner parties will make on-campus Yale feel like yours, too. Home is where the heart is, sure. But home is where the hearth is, too. And it’s those mundane things that ground your days and create rhythms of responsibility. Ground your days. Create a rhythm. Make Yale home to make Yale yours.
Amelia Jane Nierenberg is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Her column runs on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .