August 30, 2010

William Dunbar: Moving into the city

After a year of living on the UC Merced campus, I decided that it was time to move into the city.

It was time to be on my own, to forge my own path in life while still young enough to not be allowed into bars and some concerts.

It wasn't that I was trying to get closer to my favorite restaurants -- I wanted to get closer to the reality that exists outside of college.

It was time to find the freedom that came with off-campus living.

That isn't to say that life on campus was boring or difficult; if anything, it was highly convenient.

My CAT card, which identifies me as a UC Merced student, made doing laundry, eating and even paying for school supplies easy. Everything was within walking distance: my classes, friends, food and activities.

There are plenty of events the university sponsors on campus, whether through the clubs or the student body, and especially throughout last week's "Welcome Week" for the freshmen.

However, the events and convenience aren't always everything.

When you live on campus, if you have no means of transportation, you're pretty much stuck on campus. You can only buy items from the campus store, which stocks mainly notebooks, pencils and individually-wrapped snacks along with the UC Merced apparel.

You are also stuck with whatever the DC (dining commons) is offering. Such a life of limited options can be convenient, but it can also be frustrating.

Sometimes, on Sundays, I'd ride my red mountain bike into town and go to church -- always followed by a visit to the local Wingstop.

However, given the distance back to campus, there was little chance for me to visit anywhere else.

During the week, it was impossible for even quick forays into town. The buses, while reliable and comfortable, have routes that take too much time to get where I'd want to go. So, for me, the decision to move off campus seemed like a no-brainer.

For many young people recently transplanted to Merced, college is the first step toward independence, their first time for living away from home. But living on campus has its own predictability and convenience which dilute the experience, giving students a false impression of freedom.

When I decided to move from the dorms to the city, I was determined to make it work; I knew that I was ready to experience the "Real World."

But though moving off campus made me feel like a real resident of Merced, reality -- that thing I was so desperately trying to experience -- crept in.

For instance, I still don't have a car. That means that, instead of just riding my bike on Sundays, I'll be riding it four miles every day to and from campus. That's in the heat, in the rain and in the fog. Will I be able to keep up with the pace of classes without being on campus?

There's a nice, big refrigerator at my new place, but now there's the question of where to buy food. Can I cook food competently? How will I pay for food?

After I had fully moved myself into the house (with my family's help) and classes had begun, I experienced my own welcome week.

Those bike rides in 105-degree heat over the course of the first week were real enough. The ants that greeted me the first time I stepped into the shower were pretty darned real, too.

And while my parents were nice enough to give me a George Foreman Grill, I'm already getting tired of making grilled-cheese sandwiches. I'd be nice to get a car, or have some pocket money for those nights when I crave takeout, but jobs are scarce in town.

Even with all the challenges, I'm still not fully on my own. Most of the real bills for the Internet, electricity, food and garbage collection are still being picked up by my folks. Life would probably be much more real -- and much more harsh -- without the help I'm getting.

So I'm happy to have the help. I'm thankful for the red mountain bike that I ride to class (though maybe I could get a Hibachi soon?). I'm lucky to have the opportunity to live in Merced while attending a first-class UC.

Living in a house off campus will provide an excellent window on the world, a window I'm now content to look out of until I'm ready to open it -- or jump through it, whichever is the cooler option.

William Dunbar, from Modesto, is an undeclared major at UC Merced and hopes to be successful someday in his future profession.

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