Moving into College: Friendship and the Transition to Independence

Editor’s note: “Back to school” for many students actually means heading off to college, with all the emotional challenges and changes that go along with that transition. AFB intern Michelle Hackman gives us a peek into her experience of college life and how new friendships played a key role in achieving greater independence. For those who are close to the transition into college, I urge you to check out the Recommended Resources at the end of Michelle’s post.
– Scott Truax

Michelle HackmanAs I write this, I am tucked comfortably into an aged wooden chair, at a window desk overlooking one of the university quads. It is my third time moving into one of Yale’s dorms, but each time I am convinced that the room I am setting up — the clothes I am hanging in a new closet, the drawers I am filling with my knickknacks — belongs to a make-believe game I might have played as a little kid, like setting up a dollhouse to play in.

The first time I moved in freshman year, my room did feel a bit like a dollhouse — if just for a little bit. With Mom and Dad safely 100 miles away, I allowed folded laundry to sit for days before I put it away and grew complacent to the multiplying number of empty water bottles rolling around beneath my desk. (Okay, roommates, I still do both these things.) But though I was living alone, many of the fruits of independence still eluded me. I was living in a new city, but I still didn’t know my way beyond a two-block radius. I was neither cooking meals for myself — the university was doing it for me — or doing my own laundry. I didn’t have many friends. I was painfully lonely, and thought about what it would be like to go back home. Several months into freshman year, I started to wonder whether I was stuck in a make-believe world from which I would never escape.

I think for all of us — but perhaps especially for those of us with disabilities — independence seems like an elusive state of being, one in which the independent keeps an impeccable home, cooks all her own food, buys all her own clothes and maintains a constant social life. It has taken me nearly all of my time in college to discover this, but for me, my independence boils down to surrounding myself with good friends. My friends surfaced around December of freshman year, just before winter break. After wandering into the suite of four girls across the hall enough times, they invited my roommates and me to their Christmas party, where we exchanged naughty secret Santa presents and sipped peppermint hot chocolate. That night, we took a group shot in our ugly Christmas sweaters, and that photo now hangs over the fireplace in the suite we all share.

Once I found a loyal group of friends here, the tasks of day-to-day life became easier. I had people to eat with, people to run errands with and people to walk with me to far-flung parts of campus. (So many more stores and restaurants!) Sure, these are all activities I could have done by myself, given the appropriate mobility and use of public transportation. But, to tell the truth, I find the on-my-own aspects of independence emotionally exhausting. I can’t handle the frustration associated with finding the correct room in an otherwise empty classroom building or locating my correct P.O. box in a sea of 10,000. So why not bring a friend along?

This summer, I took my newfound independence to Pittsburgh, where I spent a ten-week stint writing for the city’s flagship newspaper. After two years of living alone, my cooking abilities have not improved one bit, and for better or for worse, I mostly subsisted on frozen food on paper plates. But I lived with five roommates in Pittsburgh, and we developed habits: one roommate and I went to the gym together, while another proved particularly keen on trying Pittsburgh eateries. For all intents and purposes, I moved to Pittsburgh on my own, but I wouldn’t have been able to live as comfortably or explore the city in as much depth without friends.

I would love to hear your thoughts on independence, friendship, or any other topic you think worth exploring. Please feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line on Twitter @MHackman using #AFBBlog.

Recommended Resources