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May 24, 2005

Comments

Jeff

I went across the country to go to a private university; my girlfriend stayed at home to go to a state school (though now she lives away from her parents but off campus). She'll probably disagree with me about this, but I think the biggest difference in our educations is the amount of student loans we ran up.

Xrlq

As a fellow Cal alum, I wouldn't feel too bad about UCLA rejecting a student who got into Cal. UCLA has a long history of rejecting overqualified candidates who its admissions committee believes are unlikely to attend UCLA if admitted. It's a sleazy tactic to keep their admission ratio artificially low, thereby making their quaint little school appear more elite than it really is.

I'm another example, having been rejected by UCLA Law and admitted to Boalt in 1996.

stanton

I have seen the Asian model in action, having lived in India for a few years. They are very much an extended-family culture. It is not uncommon to see four generations residing in the same house. Moving out is done when necessary, not ASAP. My daughter and I met a well-to-do business man - an exporter/manufacturer - who lived with his wife... and his parents, his grandmother, a married brother and his wife and child, and a single sister. He asked us to explain this western mystery of desiring to get out of the house and away from the family. He couldn't fathom it. "Don't you love your father?" he asked my daughter. "I would miss my Mom and Dad too much if I moved away. If I must move away some time, it will be as nearby as possible."

I see advantages in living this way, though I believe there is a big down side as well. Perhaps they tend not to dream as largely as we do? Maybe this insularity is a factor in the provincialism that is such a problem in India. OTOH, financial pressures on young persons is far less there than here. Social security and elder care is handled by the families, for the most part. The extended families in India provide a tremendous amount of support that we westerners have decided that big-daddy-government must give us.

I conclude that it is far from black and white. For me at this moment, with my five children living in five different states, I believe I am more in touch with the pros than the cons!

Hugo

Hah, XRLQ: I like that explanation very much, and will use it promptly on all my Bruin friends.

Except, of course, I didn't get into Cal for grad school (despite having a BA from the place) and had to "settle" for UCLA...

Stanton, I think you're right about the provincialism, as well as about the need for a social-welfare state. My socialism and my feelings about family are not unrelated!

Lorie

XRLQ has a good point. The college admissions process can be notoriously weird. Many of my classmates at Northwestern had been waitlisted or outright rejected by UVA, which I always found strange because at home in Virginia, many of the smartest kids thought UVA was not selective enough! (I'll admit - I was for a while one of those "smart kids" who looked down my nose at "The University," as they call it around here.) Not to mention the fact that NU is ranked higher and has been for years. I later learned that Virginia is notoriously difficult to get into if you're from out-of-state, but pretty easy to get into if you're a Virginian already.

I like this post about moving away. I moved 800 miles away from home to go to Northwestern, and didn't know a soul there. And now, I've been living with my family since I graduated. So I've seen both sides, in a way. This will probably provoke a post of my own on the subject pretty soon, but for now I'll just say that my sister Sammi will start college this fall, and although she's close enough to commute, we insisted she live on campus. That's an experience I think all kids should have.

djw

Hugo--perhaps "because of"? In my department, the best undergrads are strongly encouraged to go to grad school elsewhere, for diversity of intellectual experience and training reasons.

La Lubu

Hugo, one of the reasons I enjoy coming to your blog is that it is truly a window on a world to me. I come from a "Big Fat Greek Wedding" type of family that Anglo-Saxons tend to term "enmeshed". I wouldn't have it any other way.

It's not just money that keeps a lot of folks attending community college, or a four-year institution close to home. Many of those young adults are also essential to keeping the family wheels turning---babysitting younger family members, or helping the old folks, for example.

Arguing politics and religion with roommates? Hell, I've been doing that all my life with my family! And I'm kinda bothered by two assumptions you seem to be making. The first, that by staying closer to home necessarily entails giving up a certain amount of autonomy. Where I come from, folks take a very utilitarian view of college; it's all about getting a decent job after graduation. So, the young folks going on to college treat the whole process the same as employment; keep your nose to the grindstone, your eyes on the prize, and save the partying (if any) for the weekends. Where I'm from, there tends to be a certain disdain for the "college experience" as drawn by middle-class WASP types (no disrespect, Hugo). Why should the "traditional" version of the "college experience" be the only one? Why isn't the experience that best serves those of us without the "traditional" background valued as well? I attended a community college, and had far more in common with the "nontraditional" students in their thirties and forties than I did with some of those who were my age; I thought the whole "Joe College" stuff was....well, juvenile. I suspect that your students who aren't anxious to travel don't feel like they are missing anything. And they aren't. (I see parallels here to "Spring Break". Some think it's an essential part of the college experience, some thing it's a collossal waste of money).

The other thing that struck me, is your assertion that college is about creating a new identity. That just begs a thousand questions for me, ranging from "huh. what's wrong with the existing one?" to "do I get an Academy Award if I can fake a new identity successfully?" to "is that even possible?" to "if so, will anyone recognize me? will I recognize myself?" to "dammit! I fight every day to keep this one F*** your new identity!"

Did that make any sense?

Hugo

DJW, thanks for that -- it's still a sore spot with me after 16 years, actually, and it's nice to hear that sentiment.

Lorie, I applaud what you and your family are offering Sammi. It's a gift and an investment in her future.

Hugo

La Lubu, it does make sense. I'm aware that the "joe college" experience is a privilege; my hope is that financial aid and other opportunities might help more students be able to experience college as a time for exploring alternate identities rather than merely putting "nose to grindstone." I want as many kids as possible to experience that delicious freedom that comes from a healthy dose of independence with a minimum number of responsibilities. I truly believe that's healthy!

There's an old Ugandan saying I read in First Things last night: "A man who has never travelled always praises his mother's cooking." That may be an incentive for mothers to keep their boys nearby, but it's also a call to get up, get moving, and sample something new.

Thanks for such a long and thoughtful response!

Keri

I don't know much about the cultural influences, but generally I tend to side with you on this issue. I let my parents talk me into living at home for my first two years of college-- I was too nervous about the whole situation to think critically about it, and they took the opportunity to encourage me toward the less expensive choice without really filling me in on the sacrifices it would involve.

Looking back, yeah, I saved some money, but I'm not sure it was worth what I gave up those first few years. I found it nearly impossible to develop friendships that went beyond occasionally chatting with a few people during class, and my relationship with my parents suffered terribly-- they tried to give me a little more freedom, but they couldn't quite give up the whole parental routine (nagging me about chores and the amount of time I spent on the phone/computer, expecting me to report where I was going and when I'd be back whenever I left the house, etc), and we clashed constantly. Perhaps it wasn't fair to them, but my sense of embarrassment, the feeling that I was horribly abnormal and childish for still living under Mommy and Daddy's thumb while everyone else got to strike out on his or her own, was strong and painful enough so that most of the time I honestly wanted to pretend they weren't there. It was just a really bad situation, and it hardly created or preserved the idyllic family togetherness that some speak of.

I'm not saying my experience means that living at home is always a bad choice for everyone-- as La Lubu's comment shows, not everyone has the same idea of what "the college experience" should involve or the same priorities. For someone who really is only interested in getting an education and doesn't want the immersive social experience or the independence from authority figures, it might be an excellent choice-- cheaper, less distracting, etc. But anyone who does want to make friends, get involved in the campus community, experience true autonomy, and all the other traditional "college experience" stuff needs to know that it is very different and much more difficult to achieve when you're living at home.

I'm really glad that I was finally able to move out, even though I know I'll never get to experience dorm life and I do regret that. This past year, I finally did start to make friends and get more involved on campus, and now I'm at a point where I'm fairly happy with my college life, but I still feel bad that I basically wasted half of my college career being miserable and stagnant when I could have been having fun, meeting new people, learning to be independent, and growing a lot more as a person. (Interestingly, my grades have also improved, even though I now have more on my plate socially-- perhaps that implies that general happiness and satisfaction is better for academic success than the "nose-to-the-grindstone" studies-only approach?) It sounds like Amy may have different priorities than I did, or a different sort of relationship with her family, but still, I hope she understands what she's getting herself into and what she may be giving up.

La Lubu

Hugo, the "joe college" experience is indeed a privilege, and I actually agree with you that it would be nice if everyone had that option. That's not the "privilege" part that's bugging me.

No...the identity thing is what sticks in my craw. The traveling and experiencing other worlds is/can be valuable. But why should it be assumed that changing identity is valuable or desirable? Or even possible?

Now, you brought up "Big Fat Greek Wedding." Did we see the same movie? Remember Toula? She wanted to expand her horizons, true....but not at the expense of herself. She didn't want to abandon her Greek heritage, she just didn't want to be viewed as a freak because of it. Ever wonder why that movie was so popular (well, besides having John Corbett...hell, I could watch him read the phone book!)? Because there's a helluva lotta Toulas out here, and I'm one of 'em. For some of us, it's not the lure of adopting a new identity, but the struggle to get respect for the one we already enjoy.

You don't really need to worry about these students having narrow horizons. First of all, if they go on to graduate school, law school, or med school, chances are they'll be travelling anyway. And when they graduate and get employed, chances are it will be somewhere else. So, they'll get there. It'll happen. That, and don't be so sure that because someone heads across the country that their college experience is going to be any broader or richer than those who stayed closer to home. True, they won't have to cut Grandma's grass on Saturday, but chances are they'll be hanging around the same sort of people and places that they would have, anyway (unless they went to a foreign country).

Rainbow

You are such a narrow minded Anglo, Hugh. You probably don't have music and real food at your weddings either. Not everyone wants their child corrupted by this society. Not every child wants to be corrupted, pressured and isolated from their extended family either.

La Lubu

Thank you, Keri. You did an excellent job of presenting the other side of the coin for me.

The thing is though, our choices (or rather, our potential choices) aren't valued equally. No one is telling the students who "go off" to college that they are missing out (or even could be missing out) on crucial experiences. Like what? Like, developing an agita-free adult relationship with your parents, spending quality time with family elders before they die, finding your own rhythm of combining work and studying in a way that's likely to serve you throughout your life....that sorta thing. There are pros and cons to either choice, but one choice is respected, the other is not.

And see, part of the point of "diversity" is that those of us who represent that diversity (be it racial, ethnic, religious, economic, whatever) aren't just window dressing for the college experience of people for whom higher education is terra firma. Capisce?

stanton

Rainbow: Is being a "narrow minded Anglo" any different than being a narrow minded Black, or narrow minded Latino, or some other narrow minded group? (And I advise you to be careful with those "probably" statements.)

And how many parents do you know (narrow minded Anglo or other) who "wants their child(ren) corrupted" by society or by anything else?

Hugo

Keri, right on. Your experience said it better than I could...

Rainbow, I'm half-Jewish, and the part that is vaguely WASPy is really more Welsh and Scottish than English. Using Anglo as a catch-all for white Europeans is like calling all Asians Chinese.

And what makes you think, rainbowperidot, that my ex-wives were all white, anyway?


John

My family are second generation Dutch immigrants, and I side with Amy. You don't understand. Family First. I moved away from home for a year, but came back, because I have duties and expectations I don't wish to get out of.

Keri

True, La Lubu. I guess I just tend to forget that, because on an individual level my situation was kind of the reverse of the overall mainstream view. My parents did not respect my desire to move out and experience campus life more directly; both of them lived at home for all or part of their college education, for financial and personal reasons, so there was a bit of the "if it was good enough for us, it's good enough for you" bias going on. They were convinced that my inability to make friends was entirely my fault (I was too shy, had a "negative attitude," wasn't trying hard enough, etc) and had nothing to do with the logistical difficulties of my situation. This was incredibly frustrating, so sometimes it's hard for me to see that others might be just as frustrated by the opposite situation.

Then again, I think the overemphasis on moving out and getting away from one's family during college hurt me as well. As I said, a lot of my discontent during those years came from the idea that I was weird, that I was abnormal, that living with my parents meant I was still a child while my peers were busy becoming adults. Maybe I wouldn't have had that feeling if staying home during college was a more respected choice, and I might have been a little less miserable (although I still think it ultimately would have been the wrong choice for me).

And I do recognize that staying home has its good points and living on-campus has its bad points, too. Although I must point out that moving out actually helped me accomplish one of the "pros" you mentioned-- one thing I didn't mention in my earlier comment was that my relationship with my parents improved drastically after I moved out. I still see them regularly-- they live about an hour away, and we get together for shopping or dinner or a movie several times a month. I'm at the point where I can enjoy spending time with them, which isn't something I ever would have said while we were living together. What might be a healthy amount of closeness in some families was way too much for us, and I think it took me getting out on my own for them to really process the idea that I'm an adult and they can start treating me like one. I'm not saying that disproves your point or anything, only that it proves that these situations really need to be evaluated on an individual basis-- there's no one-size-fits-all solution.

Barbara

I think the answer to this question depends on the family and the reasons for staying or not staying. My brother stayed at home all four years and came out of college as much a basket case as my father was. He clearly needed to get away from family to expand his horizons beyond the dysfunctional and frankly paranoid world view that my father had, and he never did. And yes, I believe that it permanently stunted him.

P.S. Whoever thinks UVa is easy to get into "in-state" hasn't applied for admission lately. It's even hard to get into JMU as an in-state student these days.

erica

hmm, for what it's worth. . .
I was pressured to stay home for undergrad, or at least really close to home, and I did and I think that was an overall negative, if necessary, experience.
I got to away for grad school and am on a high because of it i think. but ask me in ten years and I don't know what I would say.

Caitriona

Hugo, there are many good posts on this thread. I'd like to offer a bit of perspective on the difference between the two choices.

La Lubu is right that the choice to stay home is given less respect than the choice to "fly the nest." There is such a strong (and often false) independent streak promoted by the American culture. From my discussions with exchange students, this streak is predominantly American in nature, although there is much of it in our students from western Europe, Italy, and Brazil. I've often gotten the feeling that much of this comes from the "Old World" view of university being where wealthy young men went to receive education in both academia and in more "worldly" pursuits, "sewing their wild oats." Looking back at history, this has never been a completely "good" thing.

I come at this from a slightly different angle - the blending of the two views. My recorded family history on the American continent begins in the 1680's. For centuries, a strong independent streak has been recorded in my family. But mixed with that strong independent streak has been a strong sense of family, community, and belonging that I often find missing in people who have that strong desire to "strike out on their own." When my ancestors decided to leave Virginia for North Carolina, they moved en masse, about a dozen families moving together. When the decision was made a couple generations later to move on to Indiana, once again portions of those twelve of so families moved en masse. They made similar moves from Indiana to Tennessee and from Tennessee to Arkansas, each time preserving family and community closeness on the move while maintaining ties to the family and community left behind.

I now find myself experiencing something somewhere between Stanton's view and your own. Our 17yo, who graduated this weekend (early and with a 91% on his graduation test!!), has wanted to be on his own at least since he was 14yo. He's chomping at the bit to get out on his own. The 18yo, who was on his own far too much before coming to live with us, is nervous at the thought of being on his own, especially since he's in a tech college and has no job. (We wanted him to get back in the groove of studying for tests, etc before thinking about work.) I want to make sure they're eating and washing their clothes. My husband has a difficult time letting go for fear that the 17yo will make mistakes far too similar to his own.

So we've compromised. I signed a lease for the boys for a little 2 bedroom house 6 miles up the road, on my husband's way to work (since he provides transportation for the 18yo). It's in town (small town of 1,000) and on one of our 17yo's co-worker's way to work, so he can carpool with her, gaining independence from the necessity of my driving him to work. But it's still where I (and half the local community) can check up on the boys and where they can be home for dinner any night they choose.

From my own experiences of moving out on my own during college, the dorm was passe and frustrating. I didn't develop the friendships that many say you will. I developed deeper friendships when I was commuting than when living in the dorm. I worked my way through a depression brought on partially by the experience not being what was tauted by movies and other popular media.

My two young academians and I have discussed their going off to college in a few years. The schools they wish to attend are Mennonite universities in Kansas (Hesston) and in Virginia (EMU), which will necessitate them being away from home. Our daughter has been speaking with a friend at church about living with the friend's parents, just outside Hesston. Our youngest son has been thinking of connections he's making who have family around Hesston and EMU. Having those sorts of community connections helps immensely, especially when one becomes homesick. It's a blending of the two views described above - setting off on one's own, with community support.

Sally

My family values autonomy and the ability to deal with novel situations, because that's been a basic survival skill for us. If they got lucky in other respects, people ended up ok if they could be dumped pretty much alone in an alien culture and cope. People who couldn't were in big trouble. It's lucky for me that mainstream American culture shares our commitment to individuality, but that's not the reason we teach kids to be able to cope on their own.

I do think this stuff is deeply rooted in culture, and class and ethnicity are part of that. But I suspect there have been working-class versions of "going away to college." Enlisting in the military can function in a similar way, for instance.

Rhesa

I experienced both worlds. My first two years of college were spent at my grandparents' house, which was a, um, experience. My aunt, uncle and their two kids lived there, also. Since they were all family, there were some demands made about getting home early and not going out with friends (especially if they weren't Christian). The next two years were in the dorms, and that was fun! My roommate experience wasn't generally good or bad, but I got to meet the fun kind of roomie, the partying kind, the nice kind, and the "roomie-from-hell" kind. I also lived within train or driving distance of home for a few years with my sisters in our own apartment. Now I'm back home again and still trying to finish school. I try to help with the chores, but that isn't always possible. I guess guilt is the driving factor when it comes to helping my parents around the house, AROUND homework, but they don't demand as much as they used to. I doubt I meet their expectations of the Ideal Oldest Child, however, but I ain't perfect.

La Lubu

These are good responses! I think I understand a little better the viewpoint of those who just gotta get away, LOL!

As I thought about this a little more, I couldn't help but wonder though, how much the "traditional" view of college life fosters alienation (at best) or hostility (at worst) towards those who don't fit that particular mold. I'm thinking in particular of single mothers who are determined to make a go of college anyway, but who often need the support of nearby family members. To infer that people who don't live in a dorm are getting a "second rate" version of college, rather than merely an alternative college experience, seems to me just another way of saying your type doesn't really belong here; you're not really one of us.

I mean, hey, I'm all for options. I ended up opting out of continuing on in college, and still feel that was the right choice for me. But I know that even in an alternate world where price was no object, that the "traditional" college experience would have been as miserable for me as it was phenomenally fun for others. I'm with Keri; there isn't a "one-size-fits-all" path here. So, why denigrate the alternative route? Why not just say "different strokes for different folks?"

mythago

Hugo, you're not half-Jewish; you're Christian.

I don't think going away to college is a good idea in the sense of 'finding an identity' as it is being exposed to different people and places. I have friends who moved out of home, but have essentially spent their entire lives in the Bay Area--and they're nice people, but boy it shows.

Hugo

Mythago, my paternal grandfather was Jewish, his wife was half-Jewish. His mother died in the Holocaust. Its historically inaccurate to deny that "being Jewish" is all about what one practices. It is also about one's heritage.

Perhaps it would be safer to say that on my father's side, I am of Jewish ancestry. Or is there no way to use Jewish as an ethnic term?

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