Little did I know that when I made the decision to attend
college and live on campus at the University of North Florida, one of my
fondest memories would involve eight new friends crammed in a residence hall
bathroom with a deck of cards and a box of Oreos.
The first week of freshman year, Tropical Storm Faye hit the
First Coast. And with her came a tornado warning. Everyone had to get on the
bottom floor of the residence halls and into either a study room or bathroom. Eight
of us piled into a bathroom and for an hour and a half, we chatted, played
cards and ate Oreos, waiting for the storm threat to pass. We had a great time
and to this day, every time I see one of those people on campus, I think back
to that day and smile to myself. It was one of those crazy college experiences
that you hope to have as a Freshman, that you will be able to tell people about
for years to come. It was funny and unique and I am so glad it happened.
I am also glad I chose UNF. When the time came to select a
college, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, but I felt it was
financially responsible to attend a local state school. I had heard very
positive things about UNF, so it seemed like the right choice. At the time, I
thought I would attend UNF for two years, and transfer once I decided on a
major. But once I arrived here, I absolutely loved it, and have been so happy
with my decision. I am also in my fourth year of living on campus and would be
happy to stay here through my graduation.
There was never any question that I would be living in the
residence halls, actually. My family has a policy that once one of the children
turns 18, they move out. My mother’s father had had that policy and my parents
decided to continue it with my sister and me. And since I had been
homeschooled, I had a completely different point of view than a lot of kids. My
parents wanted me to get the most out of college by living on campus, and I
agreed with their choice.
I roomed blind my first year, and initially I was a bit
apprehensive about it. However, I discovered my roommate to be a wonderful
person, and she remains a good friend today. We found each other on Facebook before
we moved in, and learned we had many things in common. We also decided who was
going to bring what for the room. We had so much fun that year, and it was a
great way to begin my time at UNF.
Little did we know that we would move on to campus and into
our room during Tropical Storm Faye. That added a whole new dimension to our
experience. Because of the weather, our Honors Orientation was canceled and our
resident assistants (RAs) became our pseudo-orientation leaders. They really
rose to the challenge. That first week really bonded everyone in the building.
We all developed great relationships with one another, despite the ominous weather
conditions. That first week built a sense of community that was totally
unplanned, but it was a defining experience for my subsequent time at UNF. It
was during that week that I met the girls with whom I have lived for the past
three years, and if Tropical Storm Faye had not happened, we might not have
become so close, so fast.
That first year, I lived in the Crossings, which is a pretty
good walk to the center of campus. Even so, I was grateful for the exercise!
The Crossings is not as convenient as the Village and the Hall, but it still
had everything I needed, and I was still able to access all the resources on
campus like the library and bookstore. When I first moved to campus, there was
no Student Union, and I didn’t know we were going to have the new recreation
center or the new cafeteria — those just add to what the campus already has to
offer resident students.
Living on campus also means I don’t have to worry about
parking. I brought my car with me to campus, which allows me to commute to my
job with the Army Corps of Engineers downtown, or to run to the store when I
need something. I have never had to worry about finding a place to park before
class, since my classes are just footsteps away from where I live.
My first year on campus was probably the one in which I took
the most advantage of all the social amenities UNF offers. That first year, we
hung out in the atrium of the Crossings all the time — we even took ballroom
dancing lessons right there. Now that my friends and I are upperclassmen living
in the Village, and heavily involved in our majors, we don’t need the organized
socialization so much. We still take part in programming, but we have our own
groups of friends and are living in fully outfitted apartments. Being on campus
has made it so much easier to be involved in the University, especially in a
program like Honors. So much happens on campus, that I would miss out on a
great deal if I did not live in the center of it all.
For a time, I debated moving off campus, but it seems like
it is always the better bargain to live on campus — especially for the
convenience. You cannot find a much better deal this close to campus for what
ends up being about $500 a month. Consequently, I would recommend living on
campus to anyone, especially Freshmen. The people you meet those first couple
of weeks in your building or around your building can become great friends and
help define your college experience. Also, learning to share a space, whether
with a roommate or a large group of people, is an important part of the
transition into college. There is also the advantage of a common experience. Particularly
in the first-year halls, everyone is in the same boat, and this makes it easier
to adapt. You are not alone in your anxiety and stresses — all the people you
are living with are experiencing the same thing. If you take advantage of the
opportunities for camaraderie and community, they can really help you learn to
love college on every level.
One of the most important lessons I have learned at UNF is
that you get out of college what you put into it. I am taking an extra semester
to graduate because I want to truly invest in my college experience. I have
studied abroad for a semester in England, I have spent three weeks in Ghana,
West Africa, and I have participated in faculty-led research trips to
archeological digs and historical archives. I have tried to make the most out
of all my classes. I have worked my way through school and have taken 12 to 15
hours a semester so that I could retain what I was learning. I did not want to
just study for a test and a grade. I wanted to learn lessons for life. I have
the privilege of getting an education, so I want to get my money’s worth. I put
a great deal of effort into my time at UNF, and it has been tremendously fulfilling.
I am getting a first-class education from excellent faculty members and having
life-changing experiences, all while living the college life on campus.