Learning How to Handle Independence

Learning How to Handle Independence

By Hope-Elizabeth Darris

Hope-Elizabeth is a rising sophomore at Swarthmore College. She is intending to major in Sociology and Anthropology. In her free time she loves to dance, read, act, and continuously rewatch The Office.


I was born and raised in New York City, so I’ve always had a love of crowded streets and tall buildings. Some of my favorite things to do were walk around my neighborhood, cut through different avenues, and seek comfort in the apartment buildings that loomed over me. Like most people though, when the college process started, I wanted to go as far away from home as possible. 

I loved New York but at that time, I didn’t want to spend my college years there. College is considered to be the time of one’s self-discovery and independence. I knew that if I went to school in the city, I would rely heavily on my parents in a way that I did not want to.

When looking for a suitable college, I wasn’t picky. Any Liberal Arts school that was far away from home and had great performing arts facilities would due. The one criteria I had though was that the school be in California.

The idealized depiction of California that comes across in books, movies, and TV, made me fall in love. I lived in California for a bit when I was younger and every few years I visited my uncle who lives there. Being able to walk down streets lined with palm trees instead of garbage, was a welcome change. California seemed like the perfect place for a fresh start.

However, it was quickly revealed that while going to school in California was an option, I would hardly ever be able to visit home because of the high cost of plane tickets. While I wanted independence, beautiful weather and palm trees, only being able to go home once my entire first year of college would not be enough for me. 

When California schools were off the table, I had to really buckle down and think about college in a realistic way. I wanted independence but I realized that didn’t mean I had to go all the way across the country to find it. It still seemed hard to find a happy medium and I quickly learned that the way I had been defining independence was wrong. 

Growing up, I equated privacy with independence, which it’s not. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my mom in Manhattan. It was a small and cluttered space, but it had a homey feel and was perfect for the two of us.

I essentially had no privacy though because it was such a small space. I didn’t have my own room to decorate and if my mom and I ever got into a fight, I had nowhere to go but to my bed that was about five feet away from hers.

It wasn’t the most convenient living situation, but just cause it was different didn’t mean it was bad. Our living situation left me wanting something, someplace, to call my own. Independence for me meant having my own room, decorating it the way I like, and most importantly, having the privacy that I hardly had growing up.

Although I knew I would have a roommate in college, I would have my own side of the room that I could decorate as I pleased. So, once I rearranged my idea of independence, choosing a college became easier. Now all I had to do was find a school that seemed like a good fit. 
The long and grueling college decision process came and went, and I ended up at a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania that was in the middle of nowhere. Once the school year started, I was overjoyed to have the privacy that I wanted for so long. My roommate had a boyfriend who lived off-campus, so I had the room to myself almost all the time. I quickly became used to having the whole room to myself, so coming back home to NYC was tough because I had gotten accustomed to privacy and independence.

During my first semester however, I recognized that privacy and independence were two very different things and that my equation of the two was a problem. I had privacy (which was easy to get used to) but it was the independence I was not ready for. In college, I was able to make my own decisions about everything; from what time I needed to wake up in the morning, to what I would potentially major in. I could and probably should consult with adults on campus but ultimately the results of everything were up to me.

It was weird and overwhelming at first having all this new independence but, it wasn’t bad and was something I could definitely get adjusted to.

Growing up in close quarters with my mom and not living so far from my dad, I always had people I could talk to and depend on. My high school was small, so I had a close relationship with my teachers who encouraged me to talk and rely on them as well.

People hardly go to college having that support system with them, and it’s up to you to find it. 
It was interesting getting used to the freedom and independence that I thought I wanted but in actuality, had little idea how to handle. With failures can come many more successes, and I slowly learned how to rely on myself and trust my own judgment.

I’ve always been a second-guesser, thinking through decisions, weighing the pros and cons from my teachers, friends, and parents before ultimately coming to an answer. There is nothing wrong with depending on close friends and family but you should have the confidence to trust and believe in your own ideas.

Before going to college, I never realized just how much I relied on other people. I was forced to find a balance between how much I would rely on others and how much I would rely on myself. It was silly of me to equate privacy with independence but learning how to value my own opinion was worth the struggle.

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