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Why I Chose a College 700 Miles Away From Home

Going out-of-state for college has definitely been a tough and insightful experience. Whenever I meet someone, and I tell them I’m from Roanoke, they’re initially shocked. Then I get asked the unanswerable question, “Why did you choose UF?” I always knew I wanted to leave Virginia once I graduated high school and have a fresh start somewhere where I knew I wouldn’t encounter a fellow classmate from home.

My dream (as is for almost every other aspiring writer) was to go to New York for college and live my life happily in the Big Apple. Once I realized the tuition for almost every school there was incredibly expensive, I had no other choice but to apply in-state. In the fall of 2016, while vacationing in Florida, I decided to take a tour of UF since my cousin was studying there. I knew I wanted to go far from home, but never in a million years would I have even thought of going 700 miles away. Once I stepped foot on the campus, I instantly fell in love with the culture of UF and the swarm of canopy trees surrounding the brick buildings.

Last fall, I made the 12-hour trek south from my little slice of home in Botetourt County, Virginia, to the Swamp. As my first semester went by, I slowly became more homesick and found myself feeling more sentimental about my hometown when I went home for breaks. The first couple of weeks into college were significantly hard because almost everyone knew someone from their home; I only knew my two roommates.

I had always received some backlash from my parents for going out-of-state, but I felt as though I needed to take this leap of independence. It is preparing me for when I fully take the leap into adulthood following college and the who-knows-where-I’ll-end-up sentiment. For those of you who have just been admitted to UF, congrats! And for those who are on edge about leaving their home state to come to Florida, I encourage you to really think about taking that big step. Even though you may experience periods of homesickness that are just unbearable, you’ll eventually look back at that first semester on your own and think it was a cakewalk. Here are some tips for making the out-of-state transition a lot breezier.

1. Bring a piece of home with you

Towards the end of my first semester, I was dreading staying in Gainesville any longer and I was itching to leave and see my hometown friends. Everyday over the summer, my best friend and I would drive up Mill Mountain just outside of downtown Roanoke, to this huge man-made star that perched atop the mountain (this is why Roanoke is called the “Star city”). Noticing that I was struggling, my parents brought me a Star filled with pictures of famous spots in Roanoke to hang on my window facing North so that it always points to home. So, whenever I’m studying in my dorm, I have a little piece of home to motivate me throughout the day.

2. Facetime your loved ones

Things can get pretty overwhelming with endless amounts of homework and exams, but it is important to take time out of your day and maybe video message your family or friends back home. Often times, my friend will drive to our favorite spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway and just sit there and talk with a beautiful view of the mountains in the background. Having this time to talk helped me take my mind off that fact that I wasn’t in the hot and humid Florida heat instead of the cool Roanoke mountain air. I always have my parents FaceTime me too, but most of the time it’s just so I can see my dog (priorities, people).

3. Find “your place” in Gainesville

Once you enroll at UF, you’ll be forced to take a class called What is the Good Life, which, contrary to its name, is a mind-numbing class. But one thing I took away from it is that it is important to have a sacred space where you can relax. Gainesville is surrounded by incredibly peaceful spots, and some of them are even on campus. Personally, my place to getaway is the boardwalk along the La Chua trail in the Southeast part of town. Whenever I go out there, I feel so relaxed and at home looking out at Payne’s Prairie. I’ll usually go here before an exam or if it’s a really warm day to catch a glimpse at some alligators.

4. Surround yourself with great people

Having a friend group is important in college. Coming from out-of-state, I found that having just one really good friend, although beneficial, was not really enough for me. I never thought I’d find myself joining a sorority but having a group of girls who are always there for you and will go get lunch almost all the time, really helped my homesickness. Some of the girls were even in the same situation as me and having people to relate and talk to put aside my worries.

College is no walk in the park, and for being an Out-of-Stater Gator, there are a lot of sacrifices you have to make and emotions you have to push through in order to have a great college experience. When choosing a college, it is ultimately important to follow your heart and take chances.


Photo courtesy of Cassandra Kuhn.

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