On their own: College freshmen must adjust to living away from home for first time

On their own: College freshmen must adjust to living away from home for first time

By JUDITH W. WINNE, Courier-Post Staff

A freshman at Rowan University, Steve Chatfield is unofficially enrolled in the course every first-year student must pass - Decision Making 101.

The first assignment is to figure out how to juggle good times with good grades.

"No mom's waiting up for you wondering where you are, what you're doing, so you're more likely to go out and have fun," says the 18-year-old from Holmdel, Monmouth County.

"Sometimes you have, like, three classes the next day, but you still go out and don't come home until like 2 in the morning, but you gotta wake up at 8. And you wake up and you're really mad at yourself, but at the same time the night before you just don't care ... There's studying, tests and partying, friends. You've got to find a way to balance these out."

Across the country, an estimated 4.8 million freshmen are navigating a key transition of young adulthood, learning to mix scholarship with entertainment and freedom with responsibility. First-years on campus must meet straight-forward and, occasionally, life-altering challenges. And they must figure out how to live on their own and how to live with others, often in a tight space.

Amy Artese of Washington Township shares a room in Rowan' s Mimosa Hall with Eva Roth of Griggstown, Somerset County.

"My roommate, her schedule's the exact opposite of mine," says Artese, a music major who recently won a DVD player at an open-mike-night yodeling contest. "She has late classes and I have 8 o'clock classes. A lot of times she comes home really late and she wakes me up in the middle of the night and I wake her up in the morning."

What does Roth do when Artese wakes up early?

"I just put a pillow over my head," says Roth, who, like Artese, is 18. "I got used to it. It's no big deal." But Roth notes "it's hard at times living with someone else ... Our room's so small and we're both pretty messy."

At Rutgers-Camden, resident assistant Brittany Vanneman has seen - and smelled - a freshmen room whose contents reeked.

"Sneakers, dirt from the couch, oh dear! Pizza from Sept. 4! It was terrible," says a chuckling Vanneman. "And dirty laundry ... I said, 'Please, open the windows.' I said, 'Go downstairs and get the vacuum.' Then we sat down and we just made a (cleaning) schedule."

One girl asked Vanneman for tips on ridding the shower of persistent mildew. (Vanneman recommended Tilex.) Others are so unused to being away from home they have trouble finding the telephone jack. Some will struggle with telling their parents the truth about vocational switches.

"Careers will change," says the 21-year-old junior. " Then, they all come to me and say, 'How do I tell my mother I'm not going to be a doctor? How do I tell my dad I'm not going to pursue law, like he did?'"

More troubling are problems unrelated to course selection. Vanneman, a junior from Carney's Point, has seen first-years cope with eating disorders, stress over making good grades, relationship problems and guilt over casual sex. The latter particularly disturbs her and her freshmen.

"After the fact, that's where the trauma sets in and the shame," notes Vanneman.

Beth Paul, an associate professor of psychology at the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township, has researched freshman transitions and risky sexual practices. She suggests the so-called hookup is as common on campus as the all-nighter cram session. Young adults seek an intense connection without the baggage of a relationship, but discover there are strings attached to no-strings-attached, casual sex, says Paul.

"It was clear to me that males as well as females have a lot of confusing emotions about these experiences," says Paul, who includes shame among the feelings.

In the early months, there are often feelings of homesickness, too.

On her first day at Rutgers-Camden, after just two hours in a summer college prep program, Melissa Anne Smith drove home to Upper Deerfield Township. She still misses her mother.

"I miss my mom asking me how I'm doing or making sure my work's done. And now it's all up to me," says the 18-year- old freshman. "It's up to me and I just don't want to do it or I just won't get up for class."

Still, Smith says she knows she must go. She is torn, too, by the presence of an older brother, also a Rutgers- Camden student. She loves her brother and says he has been a father figure in her one-parent home, but describes him as overprotective. If she merely speaks to a boy, says Smith, a harmless encounter is sometimes blown out of proportion by the time it reaches her sibling.

"Rumors spread so easily here it's ridiculous," she says.

Smith, 18, has found close friendships with two other young women. One is her roommate, Trisha Nicole Dean, 18, of Waldorf, Md.; th other Aminah-Kamil Massenburg, who lives in another room in the dorm and is originally from Lindenwold.

Massenburg, a Paul VI High School grad, says she misses her mom's home cooking and tries to call her little sister every day to make sure she is doing her schoolwork.

A determined student, Massenburg, 18, is committed to setting a good example.

"I'm not going to fail," she says. "I'm here to work and I'm going to work. That's what I'm going to do."

She understands her success or failure falls on her shoulders. "Nobody's baby-sitting anybody. You're on your own and you have to be responsible. It's not high school."

Thom Nixon, director of residence life at Rutgers-Camden, says newcomers would do well to model the behavior of successful upperclassmen and test the waters of campus life.

"You have to step out there on your own and try things out," says Nixon. "You learn from your failures."

Rachel Gaynor, a 20-year-old junior at Rowan, understands the obstacles first-years face. An resident assistant for the past two years, Gaynor has witnessed the hurdles her students must vault, including the sadness many experienced after the Sept. 11 terrorists' attacks. Away from loved ones, they had to comfort each other.

In this and other challenges, first-years get help from advisors, mentors and professors, but they must fly from the nest under their own power, notes the upperclassman from Middletown.

"Mom isn't there to wake you up in the morning, to make you go to school and she isn't there to feed you breakfast and feed you healthy meals and make you take your vitamins and do your laundry," she says. "And now, it's up to you. If you want, you can study or do whatever you want.

"If you finish classes and you feel you want to go shopping, you can. You don't have to ask anybody; you just leave. If it's 3 o'clock in the morning and you feel like going to the diner, you don't have to be like, oh, I have to go tell my mom.

"It's great. You have such freedom and you know once you graduate, it's never going to be like that again."

Separation is hard for mom and dad, too

If you're the parent of a college freshman, you understand the pain of separation anxiety. It's hard to let go.

This may explain why a Rowan University parent called her first-year daughter every morning, providing a wake-up call the girl and her roommate didn't need.

Understanding the first year of college is a transition for parents as well as students. Missouri Southern State College offers these survival tips for mother and dad:

oDon't ask if your first-year student is homesick.

oKeep in touch via e-mail, phone calls and letters.

oVisit, but not too often.

oAsk questions, but not too many.

oExpect change. The prospective anthropology major you sent off to college may now be interested in economics.

oDon't worry too much about depressing phone calls or letters. Moods change quickly.

oDo not tell them these are the best years of their lives.

oChances are you've done a good job. Trust your son or daughter.


College 101: Students offer tips

Tips for college freshmen, from those who've been there, done that, as well as staffers at Pennsylvania State University:

oGet involved. Join a club, fraternity, music group, volunteer organization or political association. It' s a good way to find friends, develop new interests and become a member of the community.

oKeep on top of your work, especially long-range assignments. No one will nag you to begin your paper on 19th-century British poets.

oIf you need help, ask. Colleges typically offer tutoring, mentoring and counseling.

oHowever bucolic, college campuses are not Shangri- La. Be aware of personal safety and, if you study late outside your room, find a buddy or take advantage of the walk-you-to-your-dorm escort services.

oRemember college is an opportunity to reinvent yourself, so be open to new experiences.

oDon't forget the obvious - go to class. Compared to the number of hours you spent in high school each day, your college schedule is more flexible, with fewer class hours. Use that extra time to study. Remember, borrowed notes may make little sense the night before the midterm.

oUnderstand you don't have to become best friends with your roommate, but you do want to get along, so be respectful of each other. For example, if your roommate hates classical music, don't blast Beethoven's Fifth for hours on end.

oWatch the snacking. The so-called Freshman 15, the number of pounds first-years reportedly add to their waistlines, is legend. So exercise and avoid nightly consumption of fatty foods, such as pizza, in the wee hours.

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Date Published: Thursday, November 29, 2001 (All day)
Source URL: Courier-Post