Four college freshmen. One dorm room. At first it seemed like a disaster to Matt Jaques, a New Berlin, Wis., native who decided to head east for college this fall.
He shared a room with a student from Taiwan, one born in Russia who grew up in Israel and a third from New York City.
“It was a little unique and it took awhile to get used to,” the 18-year-old said.
Jaques, a graduate of Marquette University High School, chose Boston College over Marquette University because he wanted a new city for his college experience. He plans to study economics.
“When it came down to it, I just wanted to get out of Milwaukee because I’ve spent the last 18 years here,” he said.
Boston was fiercer than he had anticipated.
“In Milwaukee, everything runs a little slower,” he said. “In Boston, everyone is going and going, just for themselves, pushing and shoving their way through things. I’m not a person who rushes into things.”
He’s adjusting, and the roommate situation has been workable so far. But he made use of his down time over break to live at a slower pace.
“It’s nice to have a little bit of structure when you come back,” he said. “When I was in Boston, you got to do whatever you wanted and go wherever you wanted. It’s nice in a way to have my parents saying we are going to be eating at 5:30 tonight.”
Jaques is like thousands of freshman around the country learning to deal with new people, new surroundings and a new environment – whether it’s a few miles or a few states away – that seems far from home.
For the first time, Scott Nichols, 18, is conscious of the effort it takes even to remember to buy a bar of soap.
“When I want to go out and buy food, there are only little shops, no supermarkets. So I’ll carry all the stuff back to the dorm room because I don’t have a car here. There are all these things that you don’t think about because your mom does it while you are at home.”
Nichols’ first semester at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor was full of novelty. A new state. A history course in World War II that focused on the cultural impact of the war instead of political and military events like his high school history classes. A roommate who spends his time chewing tobacco in the room and wound up in the hospital shortly before Christmas break with alcohol poisoning.
“Everyone has their moment,” Nichols said. “In the beginning, it was hard for a lot of us.”
More than 70 percent of the students in Ann Arbor are from Michigan and many of them already had a group of friends. Nichols, who grew up in Whitefish Bay, Wis., had to work pretty hard at the beginning to meet people.
He also found that even though Michigan and Wisconsin are considered Midwestern, the two states have different cultures.
“The weirdest thing was when I came home for vacation and wanted a snack,” he said. “All I wanted was a slice of cheese.”
“It’s like going through the looking glass,” said Matt Delvaux, of the transition to college.
Instead of tumbling into Wonderland, Delvaux is in the regimented and rigorous world of the United States Military Academy at West Point.
“It is very difficult to say I was prepared,” he said.
After the physical challenges of the summer, when Delvaux and the other new arrivals were introduced to the military aspects of West Point, the academic semester began.
On a typical weekday, Delvaux wakes up before 6 a.m., attends classes all morning and all afternoon, takes care of “duties” after classes and spends most of the evening in clubs or extracurricular activities. Lights go out at midnight.
Duties typically entail making deliveries, such as mail or newspapers, to upperclassmen. Rules include no talking in the hallways, no watching television over the Internet, no skipping breakfast or lunch in the mess hall. No studying after midnight, no sleeping late, no disobeying the orders of an upperclassman, no weekend trips.
Most college freshmen have to learn how to manage all their new free time. Delvaux encountered the opposite challenge, a more structured environment than he had ever imagined possible.
He kicked back over his holiday break, sleeping late and going where he wanted when he wanted.
“You need to be a specific type of person to survive there,” he said. “You are always going 100 miles a minute, and just to stay motivated can be really difficult.”