The Decision for DU (Stage 1 of my Hero's Journey)
Ever since I was about 5 years old, I began to have a strong passion for geography and other countries. I learned all the states and their capitals in order of statehood before starting kindergarten just for fun. I have many childhood memories of sitting in front of globes and atlases, writing down places I discovered for myself, and planning world tours. I would invent completely new alphabets and try to learn new languages, such as Spanish or even Sign Language. I have been reflecting on these early childhood memories a lot lately, for I have failed to make these connections to my passions now. Today, I can tell you countless facts and histories about every country in the world. I know every country, capital and flag, and I can fill out a blank map of the world. My ultimate life goal is to travel to all 193 UN-recognized countries, regardless of how dangerous, corrupt, or underdeveloped they may be. I am constantly traveling or planning future trips, such as a trip to Belize and possibly a few other Central American countries this Winter, or a solo trip through South Africa, Lesotho, eSwatini, and Mozambique in the Summer. These childhood tendencies evolved with me overtime, persisting all the way to college and beyond, where I am studying international studies, political science, Spanish, French and leadership. The University of Denver drew me in with its strong international studies program and its fantastic study abroad opportunities.
In addition to the school’s best programs appeasing to exactly what I was looking for, I have also always wanted to get away from the Northeast. Generally, the people in New England, New York and New Jersey are more cold towards strangers and much more fake towards their peers than most other parts of the country. Throughout my travels to 13 countries and 40 states, I have never found people as rude and narrow-minded as in the Northeast (with the exception of Vermont). The South is super hospitable, the Midwest is fun and straightforward, and the West is really chill. Thus, the closest school I applied to was a 6.5 hour drive away in Washington, D.C. I didn’t even want the ability to drive home for a weekend. Going to school in Denver was the perfect solution. I am now happily living 1,864 miles away from my hometown in a dry, mountainous state with a much more vocal political climate than Connecticut.
Despite ending up at the University of Denver, this was not my first choice. I originally was looking at schools in Los Angeles, North Carolina, New Orleans, and D.C. Unfortunately, these schools either waitlisted me, rejected me, or gave me far less financial aid than DU offered. In fact, the University of Denver was originally a safety school for me. I wanted an excuse to visit Colorado for the first time, and it worked. Regardless of the scheme, I did not expect to fall in love with the campus and the programs as much as I did. I learned how highly ranked the school’s international studies and study abroad programs are in the world, and even had the pleasure of living on campus for 24 hours. The more and more I became familiar with DU, the more I was excited to call it my home for the next 4-5 years.
Reflecting on my journey to where I am today, I have had a lot of varying factors contribute to choosing DU. I had developed a strong passion for international studies from an early age, I was very eager to start a new life in a completely new environment, and I turned a safety school into a top choice by accident. As a result, I am the newest edition to the Denver family and look forward to a fun and productive 5 years here.
The Goodbyes that were Harder than Expected
Departing Cheshire for Denver was not a hard decision when I decided I was going to attend the University of Denver, but it increasingly became harder to leave. The people back in the Northeast were overall very fake and selfish, manipulating and involving others in their own lives for simply their benefit. People would befriend you, get really close to you, use you once you let your guard down, and finally leave you the instant they got what they wanted all along. It was honestly a horrible environment to grow up in, and I noticed it throughout all the states in the Northeast (with the exception of Vermont, where people are very straight forward and genuinely kind). However, I surrounded myself with friends that were outliers to this generalization of the region from the end of Senior year up until my last few days in Connecticut. This is was what made my departure more difficult than I have been anticipating all my life.
My parents realized before I even started High School that I loved travel and that I was not a huge fan of the weather or people in the Northeast. Thus, they realized I was not going to stay local when applying for schools. In fact, the closest school I applied to was six and a half hours away by car in Washington, D.C. I actually really liked a lot of schools in the Northeast, for they are well known for their incredible academics and their great cities and college towns. Nonetheless, I refused to stay local and wanted to go to Los Angeles, North Carolina, Denver, D.C., New Orleans, or even Switzerland. My parents were thankfully very supportive of my decision to venture far for college, yet they did draw a line at Franklin College Switzerland and mandated that I completed my undergraduate education in the United States, ignoring study abroad opportunities. Despite supporting me, my mother was naturally very emotional about me living so far away all of a sudden. She tried to do as much as she could with me before I left for college, which proved to be difficult when I was making room in my schedule for as many friends as I could before the summer ended. My friends also wanted me to be close so that I could visit frequently or come home on some weekends to support them in their high school or college endeavors. Unfortunately, I had to prioritize my needs over my friends’ wishes, and flying back and forth between Connecticut and Colorado every few weekends is ridiculously expensive and unnecessary. But with reluctant support of my family and friends, and from facing the economic reality that I will be in Denver the majority of the year now, I am grateful and ecstatic about going to college in Denver.
As an Eagle Scout, I tend to try and be prepared for everything that life throws at me. Therefore, I asked all my college friends what they wished they had brought, and what they wished they had left at home because they never needed it. I got dozens of advice from several college friends, telling me that they wished they had paper towels on campus, or they wished they had never brought so many shirts to school. While I listened to all their advice, I still probably overpacked for college. I actually have used a lot of what I brought in the first fifteen days of college already. However, I definitely brought too many clothes, towels, and cooking supplies, given that I can do laundry here, I reuse my towels, and I do not have access to a kitchen. At least I was prepared for my Freshman year, and will be able to reassess what I truly need for Sophomore year, or even the second and third quarters. I suppose that the amount of things I did bring along says that I like to feel comfortable in wherever I choose to call home. This is strange to me, though, for when I go on vacation for two to three weeks at a time, I am more than happy living out of a small or medium suitcase. I never fully unpack it, and when I leave the hotel or house for the day, I essentially repack everything so that it is always ready to go. I also tend to pack more lightly than anyone in my family when I travel, so it really is weird that I have so much stuff at college. In fact, my roommate and I are thinking of getting more lights, a whiteboard, and a foldable table for our room soon. The only other thing I really miss from home is my race bike. I do not have a place on campus that I would feel safe leaving such an expensive bike, so I had to make the tough decision of leaving it in Connecticut all year. Nonetheless, I am overall content with what I brought to school and with what I left at home.
While leaving my true friends and my childhood hometown behind for a fresh start on the other side of the country was difficult, I am certain it was the right decision, and I am having the time of my life here in Denver. Of course my family and friends were sad to see me go, but they understand and support my decision to leave and seek independence and purpose elsewhere. I brought probably more than enough to college, and I have been resourceful since I settled in, but I am very content with my room setup now. The reason this has all been such a simple transition into college is probably due to my constant travels for long periods of time. Last summer, I was only in Connecticut for seventeen days! Being away from friends and family is nothing new to me, and I have more with me than I do when I travel, so the preparation for this journey has been very easy.
Making the Most of my Last Days at Home
Although I was very excited to leave the Northeast and move out to Denver to start my anticipated college career, I was still very sad to say goodbye to my hometown and my friends who were staying local or venturing even further from home. Thus, I made the most of my last summer in Cheshire and made as many plans as I could fit into my schedule with work, travel, sports, and preparing for school. Irregardlessly, I was not scared to pick up my entire life and just relocate in the middle of the country. It was a very bittersweet send off, but I found a lot of closure before finally driving away from Cheshire without a round trip mindset.
During this past summer, I made a long list of people I wanted to spend time with before I finally departed for college. It was hard to make plans with everyone, but I think I did a good job overall fitting as many people into my schedule as possible. I not only had to fit them in around my work and travel schedule, but also around their plans, trips, work hours, and, if they are also going to college, their date of departure (which often was before mine). I definitely spent a lot of money on making unique, memorable experiences, unaware of the next time our lives will align and we will be able to catch up again in person. My friends and I went to Rhode Island beaches, New York for day trips, amusement parks, hiking trails, abandoned or haunted buildings, restaurants, laser tag, miniature golf, ice cream parlors, escape rooms, local concerts, and so much more. Some of my favorite nights involved going to my favorite park, Mixville Park, at 8pm for a few hours to walk around the pond’s beach, swing, play frisbee and volleyball, and blast music in the otherwise empty park. Despite always having wanted to leave Connecticut behind and live far away, my memories this summer with all my friends from home, especially at Mixville Park, caused me to find it harder to leave than ever before.
Although I was ultimately sad to leave behind my childhood home, I was still very eager to meet new people and fall in love with my new home in Denver. I stay in touch with people back home and call them or text them from time to time, but I definitely have been spending most of my time on campus interacting with my new college friends. I have been embracing my newly found freedom of being a college student, while socializing through the odd hours of the night, simultaneously doing hours of homework in the common areas. The idea of “starting alone” was very easy to accomplish, for I have always had to grow independently and learn how to take care of myself from a young age. My sisters and other organizations I was involved in have prepared me to be independent from the restraints of my parents, and I am used to being away from home for weeks at a time. The distance and independence definitely affected me less than it did for a lot of people around me or from my high school. In fact, I am not looking forward to returning home at this point. I miss my cat and my bike the most, for I stay in touch with my friends and even my family rather often. Otherwise, I have settled into this new lifestyle rather smoothly.
Although I brought a lot of stuff with me so that I was prepared for whatever happens my freshman year, I did not bring many books other than textbooks or my summer reading. The only books I otherwise brought are my dictionaries, which help me learn new languages. I am taking classes about contemporary issues in the global economy, political thought, spanish literature, and inclusive leadership, in addition to my travel writing class. These dictionaries and classes will help me for my future goals, which are to learn how to communicate in several languages so that I can be globally diplomatic and become an ambassador or foreign service officer. Hopefully, these classes will provide me the knowledge needed to advance in a career.
Even though I ended up being sad about leaving behind my childhood friends and my hometown, I was excited to move to a new school across the country, and I have been thriving ever since I arrived. This departure and settlement has gone as smooth as anyone could ask for.
Departure and Settling In
While coming to the University of Denver, my parents and I had left ten days before we arrived, making a road trip out of this journey. We had to drag along all my college supplies and furniture to school in a Uhaul anyways, so we thought it would be best to drive through some new places. We stopped in Nashville and Memphis, where I met up with an old friend and visited Elvis’ Graceland. We stayed in Mississippi and tried their Mississippi Mud Pies and TexMex food. After that, we experienced the Hot Springs in Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas before going hiking and visiting the Gangster Museum. We visited the Gilcrease Museum and the Center of the Universe in Tulsa, Oklahoma, paired with a Caribbean dinner. Lastly, we went to the museum in Dodge City, which was the only stop on our trip that I did not enjoy. After that, we were bound to Denver.
Arriving in Denver was very sudden and appealing. One minute, I was driving through the flat plains of Eastern Colorado, staring at the countless cows out my window. The next minute, I am gazing at the incredible view of the Rocky Mountains that came out of nowhere while I start to develop a headache from the drastic change in elevation. The city itself was smaller than I remembered from my initial visit in March, but it was still busy with a stunning skyline and even more stunning mountain backdrop. We arrived at night, so I was caught off guard when I wanted my sweatshirt for the first time that entire summer. I met up with my sister who drove up from Los Angeles to help me move into my new dorm room two days later. We hecticly registered my bike, bought me new shoes, and searched the nearby Target for duct tape and sunscreen. After that, we were ready to wake up early and move my gear into my home for the next year.
Getting to campus was easy, but parallel parking with a Uhaul was definitely the most difficult parking job I have ever seen. After nearly fifteen minutes of helping my father park it comfortably between two cars, my mother and I walked to the Johnson-McFarlane dorm building to pick up my room key, meet the RA’s, and check in. My mom stayed in the carcass of what is now my room while my dad, sister, and I started hauling several trips worth of boxes and bins to the second floor of the McFarlane side. It took about an hour to move it all upstairs, and it was not fully set up until I went to bed later that night.
The first kid I met was my roommate, who was over an hour late to the move-in process. His parents were really nice and we were all excited to finally meet each other. We were upset to see how small our room was, but we quickly discovered it seemed bigger every time we returned to it. After setting up the fan, the room became unbearingly loud and obnoxious. Nonetheless, it cooled the room down from the blazing heat neither of us expected in the beginning of September, for we are both from New England. My bed was softer than I expected, which was a very nice surprise after sleeping in the uncomfortable beds at Georgetown the previous summer, constantly having to put the sheets back on the bed. Having all my stuff in my room made it smell like home, but that soon changed once we started throwing out food containers in the room and leaving it in our trash cans for days at a time.
Jenner, my roommate, and I quickly got to know each other and we happened to get along great. We have a lot in common; we are both from New England, we both go snowboarding, we both love to hike, and so much more. He definitely helped me realize how easy it was going to be to make friends on campus. The next morning, it was definitely weird to wake up with someone else in the room. However, we got used to that quickly. I met Kennedy and Amina from my FSEM the next morning while taking the DU picture on the lacrosse fields. I soon met Corin, Peyton, Jack, and another of the seven Alex’s in the Pioneer Leadership Program early on as well. I had yet to meet someone I did not get along with well. For the most part, that is still true today, almost four weeks into classes.
My journey to Denver was long, so the transition of being home to being at college was not overwhelming in the slightest. Despite the moving in process being slightly frantic, it worked out well and I quickly met some amazing people. The campus and city are more beautiful than I remember them being from March, my roommate and I get along perfectly, and I fell in love with my dorm room after the first night. This has been a great transition process for the first few weeks of college.
Adjustment to my Beautiful New Home
Since I moved from Connecticut to Denver, Colorado for college in September, I have definitely encountered some major differences in the physical environment, altitude, and the culture of the people. While adjusting to these changes may have been odd and challenging, it still feels rather comfortable and adjustable.
The biggest difference between Connecticut and Colorado is definitely the weather and altitude. It is so much drier in Colorado than it is in the humid boiler’s pot that Connecticut is. While I have to constantly put chapstick on my chapped lips out here in Colorado, I do not have to go through the annoying struggle of drying off after a shower, walking through the hall back to my room, and having to dry off a second time since the humidity made me all sweaty and moist just from the short walk back. That is a serious problem in the humid states, and my humid state friends here have agreed with me on how much nicer it is here to not have to deal with that. Also, the daytime in the Fall is a lot hotter than it ever would have been back at home. It would be mid-50’s to low 40’s Fahrenheit back in New England around this time of year. I was very surprised and elated to discover high 70’s to low 80’s Fahrenheit in late September and early October out here. Also, without the humidity, the heat is more tolerable, and the cold is only cold if the sun is down. 60 degrees here in the daylight feels twice as warm as the same temperature at night. The nights get freezing, especially in the mountains, which is similar to New England. The only difference is that freezing cold could be 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit here, which is shorts weather usually back home. The sky is either filled with grey storm clouds that fail to actually precipitate, or it does not have a single cloud in sight. The trees and foliage are also more dried out rather than lush, so the colors of the Fall leaves are disappointing here during Autumn here. I am used to seeing vibrant reds, oranges, yellows, browns, and greens, and here, everything is dried yellow, brown and green. The landscapes, nonetheless, are more gorgeous.
In addition, the elevation is incredibly high here compared to back at home. Denver is 5,050 feet higher up than Cheshire. For the first three to four months of being out here, I got winded going up stairs or slight inclines, and especially on runs or working out, all due to the drastic increase in altitude. It does not help that we drove in from Kansas, the ninth flattest state in the country. The mix of the dryness and altitude increase also gives me a lot of bloody noses out here. The only way I was able to start avoiding the altitude change was by waiting a few weeks to adjust to it. The height of Colorado is much higher than that of Connecticut, and I have yet to climb a “14er” yet.
Lastly, the culture of the people has been very different in Colorado than back at home. People are much more up front and honest about everything in Colorado. New Englanders lie about most things, and will manipulate others to benefit themselves, even if it means faking a relationship or friendship with someone that has something you want or need. People out here in the West are much more polite and friendly, too. Strangers are actually willing to help you at a store or greet you and ask how your day was on the street. The Northeastern states heavily enforce that stranger danger is a serious issue, and that we should not talk let alone look at someone we do not know. In fact, my friend from Tampa was visiting me this past summer and tried saying “hello” to random people on the street. He was very alarmed to see all of them confusingly say “hi” back and hurry away. The priority of others over yourself is definitely more prevalent out West. I am still adjusting to this big change in social acceptance. Even on the campus of the University of Denver, I notice huge differences in social situations. I come from a very good high school in one of the most educated states in the country. My grade was very academically competitive, athletically inclined, and heavily involved. Seven people in my grade got into Cornell, and only three went since the other four got into better schools, just for some perspective. Multiple kids from my grade are attending UC Berkeley, Yale University, Northeastern University, and Boston University. Others are going to University of Pennsylvania, Stamford University, Georgetown University, American University, and many other impressive schools. In fact, I was raised in an environment where failure or imperfection at a game, sport, or school subject resulted in a social decline. People who wanted to follow their skills and go to a trade school was instantly dismissed from society and classified as “stupid”. If you were bad at a game or sport off the bat, you tended to have few opportunities to improve because no one would help you or play with you. The University of Denver was not an impressive school by any means back at my school, so I was almost embarrassed to tell people where I was going at first. Luckily, I quickly realized how good of a school DU really is, especially for my International Studies major and for study abroad. I would apologize for every little mistake I made on campus during the first few weeks, whether academically or athletically. I assumed I would be avoided and made fun of for it, but instead people hardly noticed, made similar mistakes too, and encouraged me to keep practicing or playing with them. I was not used to this acceptance or inclusion at all. My grades are also thriving here, and I catch myself knowing a lot more tricks and patterns in schoolwork that my roommate has never experienced before. Maybe it is because I took seven AP classes and had teachers that prepared us heavily for college over the past four years, which most high schools apparently did not to the same degree. I am so glad they did, for it makes college a lot easier to transition into. In all honesty, seven AP classes was average in my school. Some took about double that amount over the four years of high school. I am finally learning to accept how smart and athletic I truly am, now that I do not have to compare myself to an entire school of people the same way. I am finally adjusting to these social differences of Colorado and the university.
During my nearly six weeks in Colorado, I have witnessed several differences in climate, altitude, and the social situation. I have learned how to prepare for dry weather, adjusted to a significantly higher altitude, and simply become more warm and accepting out here. I believe that this will become even more natural the longer I live out here in Denver.