TROY LAWRENCE/THE VARSITY

Let’s be honest: at some point of our lives, we all have to move out.

This process can be both exciting and daunting, but I am lucky to have experienced both sides of the commuter/resident experience, living on campus during the school year and commuting from home during the summer.

I always tell people that I have the best of both worlds, and here is why.

Before coming to study at the University of Toronto, I lived in Waterloo, also known as the tri-city. When I was younger, I remember telling people about Waterloo, but very few people actually knew where it was.

Fast forward to university, where I would hear things like: “Wait, you can actually live in Waterloo? I thought it just has a university and that’s it.” Waterloo is indeed a small town, but it’s rather peaceful and convenient, and I love it.

In fact, more than half of my high school’s graduating class pursued their education at either the University of Waterloo or Wilfrid Laurier University. When they were asked why, for most, the answer was “because it’s close to home.”

This, however, does not mean that every single one of them chose to live at home; many of them chose to live in student residences during their first year to get the ‘freshman experience.’ Some of them only visited home during the holidays, and others went home every other week.

Coming from a Taiwanese household, it is usually preferred for children to live at home until they finish their education. Growing up, it was difficult to go out with friends whenever I wanted, never mind going on dates.

If I wanted to go to the mall with friends, I had to give my parents a minimum of one week’s notice, so that my mom could record it in the family calendar, which she purchases annually from Costco. After that, I would remind them every two days, so that they wouldn’t go to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning, when I was supposed to meet up with friends.

Overall, even though there was not much freedom with regards to my personal plans, I had three hearty homemade meals every day, soft, clean clothes to wear, and not a single worry about dishes. All I had to worry about was doing well in school and keeping up with three to four hours of piano and violin practice every day.

Life was good.

Come September of my first year of university, I packed my boxes and left for Toronto. Of course, my parents were not thrilled at the idea of me moving out — mostly because I am the youngest child and have the most attachment to them — but they knew it would be unrealistic for me to commute every day.

There was even a point when my mom wanted to sell our home in Waterloo and move to Mississauga so we could all live together. I told her that I could handle living without them, and it was time for me to grow up.

First year did not feel long at all. I lived in Woodsworth College Residence, the newest student residence on campus. Its location at St. George Street and Bloor Street made it extremely convenient for me to get to class. I could wake up 10 minutes before class and still make it on time, in my penguin print pajamas, or in sweatpants if I was feeling a little more put-together.

Living at Woodsworth for an entire year taught me so many things that I would have never learned otherwise. One of the most valuable aspects I learned was how to live with others, as silly as that sounds.

Having lived with my parents since I was born, I had a lot of things my way. Although there were disagreements between us, parents will almost always compromise for their children. This is not the case when you are living with strangers who are the same age as you, so I had to learn to build relationships.

In the first week after moving in, we had suite meetings to form a suite contract and were bound by its terms for the entire year. The tricky part about living with others is the variance of expectations: what is clean to me may be intolerable to you, what is loud to me might be acceptable to you. Living with five other people taught me how to be considerate and understanding towards others, as well as taking on the greater degree of responsibility that came with freedom.

Sure, I could go out whenever and with whomever I wish, but if I got lost or hurt, I couldn’t call my parents and expect a ride home. Similarly, if I had a 9:00 am class or an early 6:00 am meeting, I couldn’t rely on my dad to come to my room and wake me up if my alarm did not ring. If I had a meeting at 6:00 am at Liberty Village, I needed to look at TTC routes the night before and be ready to leave at 4:30 am. With freedom came a whole new list of responsibilities.

I’m the opposite of a stress eater — when I am busy with midterms, assignments, or finals, I forget to eat. Living at home, my parents would never let me forget. My family is very close knit, and we would never eat dinner without one another. It’s always been a family meal kind of thing. My parents would make sure I ate regularly so I had the energy to continue studying.

You can argue that while I lived alone, I could depend on places like Canton Chili or Hong Shing to take care of my food consumption, but they do not come remotely close to homemade meals. They lack the ingredients of love and care.

Every time I went home, my parents would make many meals in advance so that I could pack them in Pyrex containers and heat them up when I get too busy to cook for myself. I feel so blessed and fortunate to have been able to do this. For a student whose family resides out of the province or even the country, this would not have been possible — this is why I tell people that I have the best of both worlds.

When I miss home, I can hop on a train and run into my parents’ arms. After a weekend at home, I can hop on a bus back to Toronto and enjoy the freedom that most commuters wish they had.

The biggest problem that many of us have is ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ mentality. We often tend to neglect the positive side of things and focus on the negatives. If you live at home, say thank you to your parents a little more often. If you live on your own, pat yourself on the back for taking on all the responsibilities that come with it, and approach freedom with an open yet cautious mind.

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