The Art of Loving Oneself Off-Campus

By

BY THEODORA K POWERS

The hardships and benefits of alternative college housing

Harvard Dorm (courtesy of www.harvard.edu)
Harvard Dorm (courtesy of www.harvard.edu)

So much attention is focused on the lives of Harvard students living within the
boundaries and “safe houses” of Harvard campus. Their day-to-day struggles revolve around
their studies, social life, and sleep: they can only pick two to focus on for their remaining years
of study. On-campus residency is convenient and full of benefits; the school provides room and
board, and the houses catalyze social interaction. There are friends and nemeses on every floor
and a strong community for support and communication. Outside of the houses, but still within
the institution of Harvard, there’s the option of working for personal income for those late-night
movies or drinks. The campus is a city of its own, an enclosed neighborhood of Harvard
affiliates and students. Naturally, it has its dramas and tragedies, its happy moments and sad
days, its romances and break-ups — it’s a PG-rated adaptation of the real world: a bubble of
Harvard-focused, Harvard-contributory students and staff. They practice a perfected version of
the art of self-love indirectly imposed by their community, tutors, peers and professors. The more
achievements they rack up, the better they feel, because let’s admit, the hard work that they put
in their goals actually pays off, and validation for that work is exciting. And most importantly, if
they like themselves, then others like them as well. So… Life. Is. Good.

But while all of this is taking place within the redbrick walls of Harvard’s dorms and
houses, rarely do on-campus students consider or even remember that there exist Harvard
undergraduate students living off-campus. While freshmen try to integrate themselves into a new
atmosphere, sophomores panic to choose concentrations, juniors uphold their ‘wise guy’ titles,
and seniors have bittersweet feelings about graduation, the off-campus students practice a
plethora of stresses unaffiliated with the stereotypical commotion of the Harvard experience.
They have already been thrust into the reality of the world with its definite deadlines, high rent
rates, monthly bills, outrageous store prices, and untimely means of transportation to and from
campus.

Off-campus students either arrive in Cambridge to immediately live in non-Harvard
affiliated housing, or they take the slow and gradual rise to being independent of peers and
colleagues after a few semesters surrounded by the comfort of other Harvard students. Some
students eventually find dorm life to be constricting and nosey and seek to find another
perspective of themselves outside the “Harvard first” ideals, and so they give a shot at being
more “adult” than their classmates. The majority of Harvard students that live off-campus have a
clear impression of the ease of life of students in the houses, and those that arrived to the city
with the initial goal to live alone or share an apartment had originally imagined that things would
settle for them just by keeping up with deadlines. The prices, expectations, schoolwork,
day-to-day job, that dreaded time of the day when your stomach growls and preparing a meal
takes an hour, and the desperate need for a bed instead of a sleeping bag, has forged and
re-forged the personalities of off-campus students and molded them into responsible and diligent
characters that are prepared to take on life’s following challenges.
Where the art of loving oneself on campus depends solely on grades and activities, the art
of loving anything is the farthest on the minds of off-campus students. With so many daily
inconveniences to take care of, the long list of personal desires has to constantly be pushed aside,
and the stresses build up further without simple pleasures to relieve them. The off-campus
student’s mind is filled with calculations ranging from prices to time management to means of transportation to personal safety—there are no dates on a calendar, but there are deadlines; there
are no dollar signs on items, but there are hours to to work and make up for whatever is spent;
there is no definite social life, but there is the concern of keeping in touch; there is no guarantee
their physical health will disintegrate from the stress, but there is the concern of putting food on
the table each night.

When you’re plunged into a routine day of classes, job, bills, homework and sleep
without the guarantee that the weather will agree with your initial plans, no promise that your job
position will always be yours, and no pledge that the lights will be on when you come home and
flip that switch, students develop different kinds of self-love and ways to go about them. When
you’re not surrounded by a community of people that are mirrors of yourself to share your
thoughts with and be comforted that you’re not the only one with the same perspective, you
create your own art of loving yourself using your adversities as the mediums to mold you, and
each passing day becomes a step closer to mastering what it means to be an off-campus Harvard
student.

Despite the frustrations, and aside from the daily challenges that sculpt characters and
keep them on their toes, there are silver linings in the hardships experienced by students living
off-campus. These are experience, independence, and a deep breath, all three of which generate a
rugged equation of loving oneself even with thousands of moments ahead to polish. Without the
scholastic environment at their heels on a 24/7 basis, off-campus students learn more about
themselves during each moment and throughout every stage of an undertaking. They gain a deep
appreciation for those rare and brief relaxations; a small gathering of friends that was initially
planned to last for an hour suddenly transforms into a lifelong memory to cherish, while an
activity gone awry becomes a lesson of what not to do again rather than a regret. Instead of
living life as if there is no tomorrow or encountering the day with the attempt to complete as
many tasks as possible within that small frame of time provided, off-campus students live for the
sake of each present moment. The tomorrow that on-campus students already made plans for is a
tomorrow that off-campus students create with the attendance on their present task during each
passing second. The absence of that “Harvard first” mindset allows them to pay attention to the
real-life issues that the world revolves around, which on-campus students only get glimpses of
through the cracks of their on-campus community bubble.

Theodora K. Powers ’14 ([email protected]) wants to remind students living on campus and off: “this too
shall pass.”