From tall bright green cornfields to dull grey pavements and blaring horns, my life changed when I decided to move away for college – 1,313.2 miles to be exact.
“What are you doing all the way out here?”
“You left just to come to Rowan?”
“Minnesota? Where is that?”
Those are a few questions I get when I share where I’m from. The conversation usually starts when someone hears me say “pop” instead of soda, looking at me as if I just insulted them. I explain that it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to be.
It was time for me to move on from wind chills of negative 36 degrees, April blizzards, racism and ignorance.
I’m originally from a small town called Hazel Run in Minnesota. Honestly, you could call it a village with a population of 64. While some schools here in South Jersey are split between kindergarten, middle school and high school, my school was preschool through grade 12. My graduating class consisted of about 60 students, and I was the only black person throughout the entire high school. Faculty included.
By the end of my junior year, I was determined to move out of Minnesota. I applied to The University of Arizona, Missouri State University, The University of Georgia, Rowan University and, just to make my grandma happy, North Dakota State University and The University of Minnesota. I was waitlisted by The University of Minnesota – my grandma was devastated – and declined by The University of Georgia. The other schools were for my choosing, and I was swaying toward Arizona.
In the end, Rowan was my final decision because of money. My grandpa, who my grandma separated from before I was born, lives in West Deptford and offered me a room at his house for free. As most people know, college students love free stuff. In the end, the money I saved was roughly the cost of living on campus in Arizona.
As much as I hate to admit it, Minnesota wasn’t the absolute worst. “Minnesota nice” is a real thing that I happen to miss. Once, I overheard a woman with a heavy Minnesotan accent ask a stranger in the airport if they wanted a sandwich that she wasn’t going to eat, as I waited for a plane. People in Jersey don’t even want to share the sidewalk. Also, Caribou Coffee is much better — and cheaper — than Starbucks.
The first year I spent here was the worst. I couldn’t afford to be a full-time student because of the out-of-state tuition – for three classes I was paying $540 each month after aid. At that time, I was working two jobs which paid about $8 and $9.50 per hour, so my grandparents had to help financially.
I had no friends and, although my grandparents welcomed me into their home and tried to include me in family activities, I felt incredibly alone. Every day I thought about going back to the comfort of my mom’s arms and going back to babysitting my two younger sisters– something I had sworn I hated.
Life got better over time. My second year was smoother because I was able to qualify for in-state tuition since I had been living here for a year, and I adjusted more and I had made a few friends. I still don’t understand the Wawa craze though.
The third year might have been my “easiest” year. I had moved on to a better-paying job and better friends. I told myself there was no turning back at this point, even if it hurt missing special events like my sister’s birthday and my uncle having his first child.
Now it’s been nearly four years since I moved from Minnesota. With college graduation around the corner, my anxiety has peaked, but I don’t have any regrets. I finally found people that accepted me, people who have been better friends to me than those I had spent most of my life with. Leaving my village behind has given me the courage to explore the world and has taught me a few things, but here are four main ones I’ve learned since moving to the Garden State.
Cry it Out.
It gets rough, just let it out. Let it out in your room, your car, or wherever you need to release the negative energy. I tried holding it in, and it just made me have random meltdowns when the smallest inconveniences occurred. One time I woke up right before my alarm and it sent me over the edge-– I cried while brushing my teeth.
Whether that’s through a great group of friends you can rely on, counseling or a pet. Moving away from everything you’ve known takes a toll. It can seem like you’ll never accomplish what you set out to do and that you’re alone, with nobody to understand what you’re going through. Adopting my cat Colin immediately boosted my mood and gave me something to look forward to after class.
Make Time to Explore.
Don’t be afraid to go places alone. Seriously. I wish I got over that fear earlier. Being from a small town, everyone knew everyone, so I always had someone to sit with. There are so many places to potentially meet new people and make new friends. Take a stroll around Rowan Boulevard, compliment someone to spark conversation, join a club or sorority/fraternity, put yourself out there. Don’t isolate yourself.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Say Pop.
Just say drink. Please, just say drink.
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