Bowen Tang acknowledges that he eventually grew weary of the repetitive offerings on the cafeteria menu in his first year of university, but he truly savoured having his own room and getting to know fellow dorm dwellers.
“Most of the time, we would go to the common block and just chat and it just feels like home to me – even though it's not that far away from my actual home,” he recalled.
But after one year living on campus at the University of British Columbia, he felt he couldn't justify the high financial costs of remaining in residence for the long haul.
He was content to pack up and move back with his parents in Burnaby, an hour away from school.
What was once a five-minute walk from residence stretched into a much longer journey to classes beginning in second year, involving a 10 to 15 minute walk to catch the SkyTrain, followed by an express bus to the UBC campus.
“It was very hard for me to keep motivating myself to stay in the evenings and do some extracurricular activities,” Mr. Tang said.
“I know that if I'm done at 6 p.m. and start to leave campus it will take me to 7 p.m. [until I'm]at home, and I felt that one-hour time was wasted.”
He's among the legions of students who will be living at their parents' homes when classes begin in September, facing sometimes lengthy round-trip commutes to attend college or university.
Coupled with the demands of coursework and outside commitments, some may feel squeezed for time to balance it all, much less to stick around campus when classes are wrapped.
Mr. Tang decided it was worth the effort.
In second year, he signed up as a squad leader in orientation, and said he gained new skills through participating in activities while working with a diverse group of students. Now in his fourth year, he is a co-ordinator with Imagine UBC, an orientation program for undergrads.
“The more I start to realize the advantage of being involved, the more motivated I am to start staying late on campus,” said the 20-year-old, who is completing a dual degree in science and education.
“Even though it would make a lot of effort to kind of travel between school and home, in the end, I found that was really worth it. And I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't realized that.”
Mr. Tang said those unsure of what extracurricular activities or groups to pursue should tap into their passions, which may help provide the motivation needed to enjoy life beyond lecture halls and labs.
“I understand the difficulty of travelling from campus to home,” he said. “But at the same time … it's really up to you to take advantage of your on-campus experience by realizing how valuable and how worth it it will be for you.”
“It really made me realize that I could build the skills that I can never be able to learn in the classroom like leadership skills, the connections, building a network. Those are the things that are applicable to anything.”
Some 80 per cent of UBC's population are commuter students, so it's a high priority for the university to ensure school is a positive and meaningful experience for all – whether they live on or off campus, said Shannon Sterling, student development officer of programs.
Ms. Sterling said a commuter parent orientation is typically held later in September designed to answer questions about resources and opportunities available to students. Questions surrounding the importance of getting involved on campus to build social networks and succeed in academic life are also addressed – all aimed at enlisting parents to provide support for their children.
Ms. Sterling said many conversations occur about how the experience marks a transition for the family as a whole, not just the students attending classes.
“For mom and dad, if they're used to their son or daughter going off to school and coming home … it's really hard for them to understand why their son or daughter is now coming home at 7 or 8 sometimes or even later, depending on when their class ends or when a club meeting happens.”
For those wanting to experience a short stint of on-campus living, Ms. Sterling said there's continual interest in UBC's commuter student hostel. The short-term accommodation allows stays for up to two nights for $30 per night during a seven-day period.
Carli Yim requires around three hours for her round-trip commute from Markham, Ont., northeast of Toronto, to attend Ryerson University, where she is heading into her fourth year. The radio and television arts student typically walks 15 minutes to catch a bus, followed by a subway ride to the downtown campus.
Ms. Yim always knew she would be commuting, and said part of the reason she remained in town for school was to not have to place a financial burden on her mother, who is a single parent. But she still recalled initially feeling envious of many of her volleyball teammates who lived in residence first year.
“We'd have really late practices until about 10 p.m. and they'd be able to walk home across the street,” she said after a recent pre-orientation workshop at Ryerson. “I'd still have to go commute and get home closer to 12 and sleep and wake up in a couple of hours to come back downtown.”
The 21-year-old didn't know if she wanted to play volleyball at all at university given the time commitment involved, but decided she wanted to make the most of her on-campus experience.
In addition to joining groups such as the Urban Hip Hop Union and Ryerson Chinese Christian Fellowship, Ms. Yim signed up to be a student mentor in her third year. Through her heightened visibility, she said she's gained opportunities in the process through people who recall her from previous events, such as serving as an MC around school.
“Most of the people I know now is because I stepped outside of my comfort zone sometimes.”
Whether shy and reserved or more outgoing, Ms. Yim said all students should feel encouraged and open to immersing themselves in new experiences.
Even if individuals don't sign up for a formal group, they may want to head out to a poetry night or athletic game, if even just as a spectator, she added.
“They don't have to be the person cheering, but they can be the person there.”
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