It’s crazy to think that an entire year has passed since my last high school class. I still remember the buzz I felt anticipating leave home for the first time and entering a new phase of my life: living my own life the way I chose and making people at home proud. I also remember the anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach. One wondering if I will get homesick, if I’ll make any friends, if I’ll ever finish packing in time for my trip. It was a hectic time.
Fear not, I’ve got you covered. Here’s all the important stuff that you actually need to know as you prepare to leave home.
First and foremost: this is the perfect time to take in and appreciate everything that you’ve always taken for granted: “automatic” laundry, not having to think about what to eat and where, clean floors, a steady supply of toilet paper, … clean floors… Believe me when I say your standard of cleanliness will take a dive during your time at college, and who could blame you? You’ve got the world to take in.
Then there is the one thing that I, a person of the tropical-weathered Indonesia, thought I hated. Keyword: thought. As it turns out, having constant 90-degree weather is a blessing in disguise that frees me from a dependency on a flaky weather app does very minimal accurate forecasting. So yes, enjoy your weather when you can. Entering a new territory with different weather is what I find to be one of the most difficult parts of university life.
Now’s the time to say yes.
Yes, to one last spontaneous road trip with your ride-or-dies, to an embarrassing DIY photoshoot with your family to immortalize this momentous period in your life, to the too-large piece of cake or serving of noodles or whatever it is that your mom plopped lovingly unto your plate. These moments will be harder to come by once you leave for college.
Go and see as many important people as you can.
Important meaning, people who matter to you.
In my culture, it’s a norm to ask for the blessing of your extended family before you do something major in your life. That’s why I had a huge dinner with twenty-some relatives, asking that they support me with their prayers in my pursuit of higher education far from home. It was incredibly heartwarming to be surrounded by so many loving people who had my best interest in mind. To this day I remember them sometimes when I need a boost of motivation.
But that doesn’t mean you need a grand farewell – you could make one last breakfast for your parents and siblings, or have one last latte at your local coffee shop with your childhood best friend. Take your dog on one last walk before you leave. Maybe even feed your fish. Small things like these are the ones you’ll miss the most.
On a more practical, but equally important, note: when they tell you to pack light, they weren’t joking.
I always took myself as a relatively well-dressed person – I liked to switch it up. Taking basically everything I owned with me, it turns out, was a mistake not because I “wore the same thing 50 times in a row,” but because it was a pain to pack up once you had to move out. So, by all means, what you want, but keep in mind that you might be on your own when it comes to putting everything in boxes and hauling them home.
At the same time, I would highly recommend bringing as many pictures as you can. You’re going to have an ugly white wall, and covering it with meaningful memories will make it just a tad less depressing. If you’re extra (like me), fairy lights are a major plus too.
Bring your favorite snacks and small trinkets from home! You never know when a pang of homesickness will hit, and food is always a trusty cure. Plus, you get to introduce your friends to something new, although admittedly some people may be nervous about trying weird new foods. Trinkets, especially if you are an international student like myself, make great gifts for a new friend’s birthday or a thank-you to a professor that made an impact on you.
Bring some medicine from home too. When you first transition into university, it’s common that people get sick. Someone once explained to me that it’s similar to toddlers getting ill when they first start kindergarten. They’ve never really been exposed to the germs and bacteria outside their homes, and now they’re spending all this time with their new friends from all over the place. With university students, we meet with people from literally all around the world, and the situation is intensified with the sheer amount of activities and lack of rest that the we get. It’s a lot easier to just take vitamins or medicine from home, especially when it’s so urgent. Coming from Indonesia, I know I couldn’t leave without arming myself with 2 boxes of Tolak Angin – a beloved herbal immune system booster that doesn’t just line the counters at CVS.
My final and perhaps most important advice is to set a call routine before you leave. It’s no secret that many university students find themselves distanced from their parents. When you have so much going on, it’s hard to make time to call home. It’s even worse if you’re an international student with a 12-hour time difference. By setting a routine early on – maybe promising to call once a week on Sundays or whenever convenient – you commit to keeping your parents and family updated on your life. Personally, my parents have been my truest and most reliable anchors, helping me from the smallest questions such as which humidifier to buy giving me advice on balancing my academic and social life at Penn. Your relationship with your family is too valuable to be broken up by distance.
University is a weird transition period between being a child and growing into an adult. It tests your ability to essentially “create” yourself a home away from home. Leaving your comfort zone allows you to meet new people – ones who you can’t believe you’ve lived without all these years. It forces you to depend on yourself. Occasionally, you’ll be surprised at the pleased feeling of being able to find your stuff without having to ask your mom to make it magically appear. At the end of the day, leaving home is scary, but it’s about building the courage and strength in order to take in more experiences.
And you know what I think? You’ve got this.