15 May 2012

The Homelessness of Students

Meet Dave. He studies at the University of York; Birmingham; Oxford; Exeter; Plymouth; East Anglia; wherever. During the last few weeks of last year’s Summer’s sun, he moved away from home, and spent his first night at University. After hours of lugging boxes upon boxes of his life up beer-stained stairs and into a flat dominated by the smell of carpet-cleaner, many emotional goodbyes and slightly awkward introductions, he looked around his room: his new home. This was a new beginning; something had changed for the rest of his life; he had ‘flew the nest.’

Well, not quite.

Naturally, he threw himself into the fresher cliché of going out to a club on the very first night. Making the most of his new-found independence, he didn’t think twice about the consequences of rolling back into ‘home’ at five in the morning. Instead of finding scolding parents when he did, he found a retching flatmate by the toilet.

The next few weeks went by, a blur dominated by bouts of Freshers’ Flu and trying to hear lecturers over obscene amounts of coughing.  He was still enjoying his new-found independence: he could eat when he wanted; go out when he wanted; eat and drink what he wanted (so long as they were within his cataclysmically small budget).

Before you know it, it’s Christmas. Dave drags an impossibly big case onto the train and goes ‘home’. Weeks of comparatively luxurious food, affection and relaxation: recuperation. Here, he did not get to do what he wanted, but he got everything done for him again. This was also a time spent arguing with his parents and brother about what to watch on television, what to eat in the evening, when to go out to town, not to wind his brother up, how, contrary to popular belief, the incongruous piles of paper scattered across the lounge in fact represent order and not chaos.

He had to get used to living with others again. He did that at University, of course, but his ‘university-home’ had his own private space. It felt like a step back to a time of imposed rules and not eating pasta at every meal-time. ‘My roof my rules’ comes into play; something that one gets used to forgetting when one has been sharing a roof with 400 others.

At University, Dave was truly Dave. He forgot the rules and curfews of home-home, and fell into the questionable customs–characterised by eccentricity, a lack of cleanliness, and beans–of university-home.  

After these months of developing Dave’s way of life, he is jarringly jolted back into the routine of home-home. As soon as he gets used to living with his family again, he is thrown back into the relative chaos of university-home, and the routine continues, having to readapt so much that he almost competes with the chameleon.

After several cycles of readjustment, a change in his philosophy takes place, and he is trapped in a state of limbo. Although he talks to the ‘guy next door’ of ‘moving home tomorrow for Easter’, ‘home’ becomes a strained word. There is something missing from the university-home to be able to call it home. Equally, when he’s home, his mother constantly corrects him when he refers to university-home as ‘home’. Of course, home-home is a place of priceless parental affection and much-needed cooked meals, but there comes a time when he can’t wait to get back to University, just like there’s a time when he’s ‘ready to go home.’ The boxes containing the ‘stuff’ of his life are split equally amongst the two places competing to hold the place of ‘home’ in his heart, but neither university-home nor home-home is ‘home’ in the sense that he once knew it. 

2 comments:

  1. Very true. You summed that up quite well.

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