October 23, 2013

Road to Joy: Reunited (with dorm life) and it feels so good

You have no idea how badly I wanted to get out of here.

Though I devoted all of last September to spooning a pillow while wistfully counting down the seconds until I was a college student, upon moving in, the excitement of dorm life disappeared almost as quickly as the warm weather.

I soon realized that dining hall food was not so great. Every failed health inspection fueled the general student body’s hatred for Aramark and my own. I realized that having a roommate didn’t necessarily mean getting a new best friend by default. Instead, every day was a reminder that my personality type required lots of time alone, or at least time without a person living two feet away from me. I realized that house culture wouldn’t exist if the word “mandatory” wasn’t slapped onto the subject line of an e-mail. There were not 80 new housemate friends made. There were only football cliques and sorority cliques and second-year/first-year divisions.

So when winter quarter rolled along and the news that students were making plans to move off campus for their second year reached me, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more. Not even sleep.

Oh, the possibilities! I could cook my own food! I’d be saving so much money! I’d be living in a single! With people in the same “clique” as me! As far as I was concerned, college would be so much better if I were to live in a shabbily constructed apartment by Harold’s Chicken Shack.

Quite anticlimactically, my parents no’d the off-campus proposition and I was forced to sign myself up for another year surrounded by dining hall food and neighbors who weren’t interested in being neighborly. That is, until my summer plans became cemented and I realized I’d be spending the sweltering months of June, July, and August at the University itself.

Here was my chance to show my parents that I could, in fact, cook for myself and clean for myself and pay bills for myself. Here was my chance at off-campus life—my chance to truly experience how much better it was going to be than living in an orange and pink dorm.

It sucked.

It sucked so unbelievably much. Buying groceries and hauling them seven blocks sucked. Cooking for myself sucked. Washing my own dishes and cleaning my own kitchen sucked. Going home to the same few people every single day, no matter how much I loved them, sucked. Waking up to cockroaches in my bathtub sucked. Hearing mice scurry around in closets sucked. Living in a shabbily constructed apartment by Harold’s Chicken Shack just really, really sucked.

By this September, I was, once again, spooning a pillow while wistfully counting down the days until I could return to dorm life. Sure, I could cook food better than what I ate at Bartlett, but certainly not every day, and certainly not without having to make the long and miserable trek to Treasure Island twice a week. And sure, I was living with people in my own friend group, but I missed being able to run into new people while doing laundry or laying out in the courtyard. I missed being able to see hundreds of familiar faces around me while I ate. I missed feeling like I was a part of the University of Chicago, even if my part hadn’t been so great.

To attempt to make this something other than a pathetic, privileged pseudo-coming-of-age story, I’ll admit that it’s very likely that I just had a bad first year. Though I remain in the same house in the same dorm, my experience has so far been a positive one. My new roommate is a much more compatible fit with my personality, and there are actually people going on house trips and eating together at the house tables. I’m no longer an impressionable first-year riding the down-with-Aramark bandwagon, even on days when I thought that the food really wasn’t bad.

It’s also very likely that I just had a bad off-campus living experience. Perhaps it usually doesn’t take the MAC exterminators four tries to get rid of a rampant cockroach and mice problem. Perhaps some apartments don’t even have them!

Nonetheless, I will stick to my clichéd life lesson that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…and I plan on holding onto this on-campus year for dear life.

You have no idea how happy I am to be here.

Jenny Lee is the blogger behind Road to Joy. She is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.