When some people go away for college, they stay close to home and in a similar culture. But is it a disservice to not go further away?
Even if you go away for college, it might be close enough to home that it is the same culture. With America being as big and diverse as it is, some people, like Meg LeBlanc, feel the need to switch regions all together.
LeBlanc wanted a break from the South. She saw many of her friends go off to schools like Louisiana State University and the University of Georgia, but she didn’t follow in their footsteps. Instead, she moved out of New Orleans and enrolled at the University of Colorado – Boulder. She doesn’t regret her decision.
“If you don’t go somewhere else, you’re never going to know what else is out there,” said LeBlanc, who earned a bachelor’s degree in advertising.
What are the considerations of attending college in a different region of the country?
Culture shock: Positive or negative?
When students make drastic moves for college, whether from small towns to big cities or from the South to the Rockies as LeBlanc did, there’s bound to be at least a little culture shock. LeBlanc definitely felt it.
“It’s the unfamiliar territory that was challenging at first,” said LeBlanc, who had never seen mountains or snow before moving to Boulder. “It’s not your comfort zone and takes a while for a place to become home and to become comfortable.”
LeBlanc ended up feeling like she could be her true self in Boulder without being judged. It helped being in unfamiliar territory to feel more comfortable. While she doesn’t view her hometown negatively, living in Boulder did highlight to her how liberal a place can be. Distancing herself from home ended up being a positive thing for her.
“I was able to do things I always wanted to do and be the person I always wanted to be,” LeBlanc said.
According to Elizabeth Armstrong, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, the community does indeed play a large role in whether culture shock will be positive or negative for students.
“Whether it ends up being good or bad is in part due to how inclusive and how open-minded the community in which they land is,” Armstrong said. “It helps determine whether or not they’re excluded.”
The college itself can also help determine whether or not the transition will be positive for students.
“It depends how well set up the university is to help navigate cultural differences,” Armstrong said. “When universities or colleges have resident life systems that are really intentionally set up to understand that students are coming from different backgrounds … and give them tools to talk about these differences and learn from them, then these differences can be really productive.”
Being away from family
For a lot of students, college is the first time living away from family. Sure, there might have been a summer camp here and there, but long-term distance from home often happens during college. It was certainly difficult for LeBlanc.
“I remember I called my parents at three in morning so upset about a paper due or something,” LeBlanc said. “I couldn’t just walk downstairs and have them comfort me then and there, so that was challenging not having my family around.”
If you do end up feeling homesick while away at school, there are plenty of resources and advice out there to help, including those available at your school. It’s important to stay busy, be in regular contact with family and to recognize that you’re not alone.
Plus, it gets easier for many students over time. In the end, LeBlanc thinks it strengthened the relationship between her and her parents.
“You learn to cherish things that maybe you didn’t really cherish before,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc ended up getting funding for school and graduated with no debt. Not everyone is as fortunate.
According to The College Board, the average cost of tuition for out-of-state students at public four-year colleges is $21,706. Private schools usually cost more, but it’s the same price for in-state students as out-of-state students, typically. This is why students from wealthier families are much more likely to go out of state, Armstrong said.
“It would be good if more people had the opportunity to have the experience to go away, if it weren’t so dependent upon money,” Armstrong said.
Finances, as well as not knowing about financial-aid options, lead many students to stay home during college, according to Armstrong. But amid the culture shock, being away from family and cost concerns exists a real possibility to grow.
“I turned those fears into a positive experience,” LeBlanc said. “Facing those fears freed me.”
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