Looking Back, Moving Forward
Even though I had lived in Memphis, Tennessee for ten years, I always felt like my birthplace, California, was my real home. So when my father told me that his employer required him to move to Arizona, my first thought was, “This is my chance to get back to California.”
At the time, I was only seventeen, in the middle of my junior year of high school, and my father was far from thrilled to hear that instead of moving with my family, I wanted to complete high school in California, on my own. After weeks of negotiating, and with the support of my mother, I convinced my father that not only would it be a good opportunity for me to gain a sense of independence, but I would also be able to claim residency before applying to colleges, and I had always imagined going to college in California anyway.
Saying goodbye to all the friends I had grown up with was hard, but it didn’t discourage me because I was so excited to start my new life. So I packed only my essentials and boarded a plane with one suitcase with two weeks’ worth of clothes, a backpack full of my favorite books, CDs, and my diary, and small wire cage with my pet hamster.
My parents had arranged for me to live with my uncle in Pleasanton, provided that I paid him three hundred dollars every month for rent. When I arrived, he also had a “lease agreement” he made me sign which stipulated my weekly responsibilities, nightly curfew, and a strict meal plan. It became very clear to me that my stay would be nothing like previous summer vacation visits, and somehow our relationship had become less familiar and more professional.
Nothing was as I expected it. My new classmates never welcomed me; in fact, they barely acknowledged me all year. My school hardly noticed me; somehow I was completely omitted from the yearbook. California was not exactly the home I thought I remembered. For ten years I despised Memphis and told all my friends that I belonged with the big cities and liberal minds of the west coast, but suddenly, there I was, finally where I always wanted to be, but all I could feel was culture shock and isolation.
Unfortunately, it took a couple years for me to really get settled into my new home. I had no idea how to budget my money so I couldn’t afford to renew the lease on my first apartment. I was lucky to find a small room to rent, but then I lost my job. I had to drop out of school in order to scrounge up the last of my savings just to pay rent. I could have asked my parents for help, but they were paying for my sister’s college tuition, and I felt too guilty to burden them with my failure. I had to find my dinners at soup kitchens for weeks before I finally found another job.
If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I still wouldn’t change a single decision. Even though I made so many mistakes, and I caused myself so much pain and disappointment, I realized that I am resourceful and strong enough to survive anything. I also learned to withhold judgment on those less fortunate than myself, and to be generous and compassionate to those who need help. I would never have survived my situation were it not for the kindness of those who fed me at the soup kitchens, the understanding and patience of my landlord, and the faith extended to me by the man who finally gave me a job.
Even though those years were very difficult and painful for me, I take every opportunity I can to share my story with young people who are thinking of moving out for the first time or trying to pay their own way through school. I wish I could explain to everyone in the same position I was in, independence takes so much more than drive and determination; independence requires a particular type of maturity that can only be gained from experience.
So, here is the most practical advice I can students planning to move: make sure that you are earning at least one and a half times your rent every month, use a percentage from every paycheck to build a savings account that can cover at least three months’ worth of expenses, and always take advantage of all the resources available to you. With that said, I encourage taking chances and risking mistakes. No one will escape this life unscathed, so you may as well face those terrifying situations head-on because if you can survive being an independent student, you are ready for anything.