A Commuter’s Life: Leadership Weekend

Welcome! I appreciate you taking the time to read this. I’m Jonathan, a Utica native who has lived here his entire life. My major is biology, and I am in my second year of collegiate study. This semester, however, is my first semester at Utica College because I spent my first year of school at our local community college, MVCC. I commuted there, and I commute to UC, which can bring about all sorts of stresses and worries. I want to be here to show you with my experience how misinformed we all are about the commuter experience.

For starters, my biggest worry about commuting to school was not being able to be involved on campus enough. Everyone wants to get that college experience that they will carry with them for the rest of their life; a presence on campus is important to build positive experiences. “But, I thought that all commuters did was go to class and go home?” Don’t fall victim to this mentality! Commuters can be equally involved on campus, and are sometimes an even more important asset in regards to how the school can positively affect our community. Take it from me, I partake choir and orchestra, am the vice president of the Gay Straight Alliance, am involved in the biological society, and do two separate research projects within the biology department. Commuters can be just as involved, if not more, than the average campus student.

 A Commuter’s Life: Leadership Weekend

The third weekend of October, I had the fortunate opportunity to be involved in an event sponsored by our student senate. “Leadership Weekend,” a time when students who may have never seen one another on campus before come together for fun, to share ideas, and even overcome fears. From day one of awkward introductions, to day three of warm goodbyes, the weekend was an incredible experience from start to finish.

Everything always sounds good on paper, or I guess on computer screens. I filled out the application and got an email back saying I was chosen to go on the leadership weekend trip. Great, this is exciting; I’m going to rock this! Then comes my realization as I stepped on the bus that, other than my sister, I knew no one. Most of the people there I hadn’t even seen on campus before; I guess, of course, this is one of the cons of being a commuter in their first semester at UC. How was this going to work? I’m not the best at meeting new people, and I didn’t make the connection until just then that I was about to spend the weekend with complete strangers, far from home/campus, without cell phone service (I will say in retrospect that the lack of a phone actually felt very liberating and free).

Summing up the first day of the trip in one word, I would simply have to say, “surprising.” I was surprised to become so comfortable with new people so quickly, I was surprised all of the ice breaker activities were working, and I was surprised these strangers all seemed to become friends. We did activity after activity to build bonds, and share ideas, and slowly we became pretty close. For the first time since I transferred to UC, I started to feel like I had a place on campus. Being a commuter, I always go home at the end of the day, while many of my friends go back to their respective residence halls. Even if I went back to their rooms with them and hung out for a while, there would still be the moment when I had to go home, and I was the different one. This isn’t to say that I am the only commuter, because I, of course, am not. However, I did feel singled out and a bit detached from campus. After the first day of leadership weekend, I was able to feel this weight lifting off my shoulders.

The second and third day were a blur, but involved crazy ropes courses, creative trust and leadership building activities, the sharing of many ideas of what makes UC great, and how we can continue to strive for even better, and finally, a presentation to those from the college who are able to put our ideas into motion and start the ball rolling.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is, just get yourself out there. If you’re anything like me, don’t let the commuter life get you down. I always had wanted to go away to school, but things didn’t turn out as planned; I actually think things turned out much better. I know that most people say this, and it may be cliché, but still Utica College has become a home away from home for me, even if my home is only a ten minute drive away.

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The leadership weekend guide boasted that this was the best spot in the Adirondacks to see the sunrise, and I could not take the chance of him being correct and me missing it.

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How to Be a Better Commuter

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Photo by The Tangerine

Utica College has a fairly large commuter base. It attracts a lot of local folks, myself included, who choose to go home at the end of every day and drive back again in the morning. Some of us have a quick five-minute drive while others devote an hour or more there and back.

We all have our reasons for why we prefer it this way. And as with anything, there are advantages and disadvantages. One of the hardest things about being a commuter is dealing with harsh CNY winter travel and making that dreaded decision of whether or not to take your chances driving to school every time the snow rolls around.

There are several things to do to lessen the inconvenience and dangers posed by nasty weather. For starters, be smart when you’re making the decision of whether to face the commute or not. If you can afford to miss the class without severely getting points docked from your grade, then it might be best to not go in. Even if there’s important material, you can always try speaking to your professor or getting notes from a friend. Class is very important, and so is attendance, but your safety is the most important of all.

That being said, I am not in any way condoning skipping classes without a darn good reason. After all,we are seasoned veterans here in CNY when it comes to driving in harsh elements, so if you can, get your butt to class. It’s a given that you should drive slow, and always leave early on a bad weather day so you don’t feel the need to rush. But if you can’t avoid leaving late, do not try to rush there. It’s better to make it to class safely and a few minutes late.

It’s a good idea to even leave for class early on a good day when you’re a commuter. You never know what kind of traffic snafus or incompetent people you’ll encounter along your journey.

In fact, getting there early means better chances of a better parking spot. You can’t argue with that!

Being a commuter can also be tricky if you’ve got a long day with back-to-back classes and/or work. You don’t have time to run home again, so it is key to plan ahead when packing for the day. More obviously, you’ll need all your books, papers, etc. for your classes. But you also want to make sure you have tons of food to get you through the day. I recommend bringing more than you think you’ll need in case you get stuck being out later than you originally intended.

On a similar note, I recommend getting yourself a Brita water bottle. It has a built-in filter, so you can feel safe drinking tap water. That means you’ll have water all day long, and won’t have to bring or buy a million plastic water bottles.

It’s also not a bad idea to keep your car stocked with essentials like tissues, Advil, and your chargers for your phone/laptop/etc. This way, you won’t find yourself running to the store or back home when you unexpectedly need something.

If you have a laptop or tablet, I definitely recommend bringing it to school with you as a commuter. You never know when you might need it. If one of your classes gets canceled and you’ve got time to kill, you’ll be glad you brought it along.

Be sure to have a back-up plan for rides. Just last week when it snowed on Friday, I got completely blocked in by snow thanks to the snow plowers at my apartment complex, and couldn’t get out of the parking lot. Luckily, I had a friend who was willing to pick me up on her way into school.

Finally, try to be as picky with your class schedule as you can be. Some classes are only offered at one time, and you have to deal with that. But if you can choose classes so that you have to make as few trips to campus as possible, then do it. Your gas tank will thank you.

Are you a commuter? What do you do to make your life a little bit easier?

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