By Kayla Miron
While transitioning to college makes many students feel alone, East graduates at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill often avoid isolation. Attending college in one’s hometown might seem confining, but a school as big as UNC-CH offers students the opportunity to either immerse themselves in meeting new people or to wade into the newness of college from the safety of their high school community.
Though many East students write off UNC-CH as being uncomfortably close to home, students on campus do not feel trapped. The opportunities available to UNC-CH students surpass in quality and in number those open to high schoolers in Chapel Hill.
“Living on campus is so weird; it’s like a whole new town!” said Noam Shemer, East Class of ‘13 and UNC-CH Class of ‘17. “I’ve been to areas of the campus hundreds of time but still got completely lost my first week. I think that being a UNC student just automatically makes you love Chapel Hill because you realize that this town basically revolves around this college, and it’s no longer ‘boring’ because you meet a lot of new people and have a new sense of independence.”
This newfound freedom can overwhelm teenagers living away from home for the first time. Loneliness in a new place, homesickness, and social anxiety can stress American college students, approximately forty percent of whom report feelings of depression. Going to school close to home, however, offers students an escape from potential isolation.
“I personally did not want to live far away and have too many stressful transitions at a time when I should be enjoying myself rather than feeling alone in a new place,” Shemer admitted.
From a previous understanding of the bus schedule, to saving on FedEx expenditures for items left at home, the proximity to home offers other, purely practical, advantages.
“My mom still does my laundry,” remarked Thurston Nash, East Class of ‘13 and UNC-CH Class of ‘17.
New students often praise this ease of transitioning to college life at UNC-CH. The school offers many resources and holds a myriad of types of people. While excellent, these resources can be hard to access as a wide-eyed first-year. Growing up near one’s future college can provide a way to hit the ground running during life after high school.
“Being close to home means that I have a lot of connections from growing up here,” asserted Alexandra Willcox, member, East Class of ‘13 and UNC-CH Class of ‘17. “That helped me get started really fast, and know what I wanted to do.”
While a large school offers large opportunities, it also can socially overwhelm small town teens. Among the hardest things to find at a school with UNC-CH’s magnitude remains a sense of community. For many Chapel Hill natives at UNC-CH, however, high school camaraderie carries over into college life. For some students this provides a way to remain connected to youth, and for others it offers merely a jumping-off point for making new friends.
“I’m trying really not to be part of an East community [at UNC-CH], but I see people a lot” Willcox said. “It’s nice to have them, but you can really choose whether or not you want to make [them] a big part of your time here.”
While high schoolers in Chapel Hill may view UNC-CH as a safe option for those unwilling to venture far from home, actual UNC-CH students agree that safety is merely a mindset. For those not ready to part with childhood friends, or for those with accumulated local connections, attending UNC-CH can provide a happy medium between the new and the old.
Photo Courtesy of Alexandra Willcox.