I never wanted to go to school close to home. I thought that the college I went to had to be physically far away in order for me to gain the independence I yearned for. My first year at Berkeley taught me that I was wrong. My parents didn’t contact me at all after dropping me off at my dorm — not even a single text. Eventually it got to the point at which I was concerned something had happened to them, and since then we’ve had a more regular flow of communication. But distancing myself from my old life at home served its advantages: I found myself feeling more and more integrated into the campus community, and the more integrated I became the more I realized I was finding my independence. Instead of playing tourist in a new city, I served as a tour guide for new friends who had never been to the Bay Area before. I was asked for restaurant recommendations so often that I started to keep a running list on my phone. That’s not to mention that things like moving and going home for breaks are infinitely easier than they would be if I had moved further away.
All of these findings I could have predicted had I cared to consider the option more. What I didn’t expect to find so much joy in was the way in which going to school close to home tied into my academic classes. In my introductory geography class my first semester, neighborhoods right next to mine served as case studies to understand processes of urban decline, revitalization, and gentrification. When it came time to design a course project, most students, myself included, chose to study their home neighborhoods, but I found my task much more straightforward because a good amount of the course readings I had completed were focused directly on the area I was studying. Many of my professors have conducted their research on the Bay Area as well, adding another level of understanding and intrigue to their classes for me.
My classes have also gone to change my perspective on the area I’m from in more ways than I could’ve fathomed. I now understand how the construction of the freeways that I’ve spent my entire life driving down cut through the heart of the African American community in West Oakland. I no longer see the Oakland’s business districts as the objective commercial landscape, but instead as both evidence and a symptom of changing demographics that are pushing longtime residents out. These, in addition to many more things I’ll refrain from listing out here, are things I can’t say I would’ve come to discover if I had gone to school further from home. It’s been amazing to be able to directly apply what I’ve been learning in this way. These findings likely influenced my decision to become a geography major, and I’m glad they did so because I never expected to find a field of study that I’m so excited about.
If you’re reading this as a prospective student who’s apprehensive about going to college close to home, or even one who’s considering moving far, far away, I hope this goes to show you that everything truly does happen for a reason. I know it sounds cliche, but every decision has its tradeoffs. At the end of the day, there will always be at least one silver lining you never expected to find, out there waiting for you to discover.