May 22, 2023

Olivia Barrett

by Olivia Barrett

Overwhelming. Refreshing. Intimidating.

Moving away for university can usher in a wave of emotions, but the excitement of being in a new city with new people attracts new students year after year.

For some, moving away from home for school was their only option; whether there were no schools close enough or none that offered the program they wanted or simply not wanting to commute. For others, like Abyssinia Abebe, moving for university brought the opportunity to have a city that was completely their own.

Growing up in Toronto, Ont., Abebe said she knew she wanted to move away for school to push herself out of her comfort zone. Even though she applied to a university in Toronto, she chose Carleton University for both the program and the chance to learn to be her own person.

“I learned to set and define my values and boundaries,” Abebe said. She explained that she struggled with setting boundaries with her roommates in her first semester and she said that not having her parents there to help her “forced me to act.”

By developing a set of values outside of the influence of her parents, Abebe said she was able to grow as a person. “When you’re in a situation, you know that you’re supposed to deal with it and there’s no one that’s gonna come and do it for you,” said Abebe, explaining how this push helped her in learning how to create these boundaries and personal values.

Similar to Abebe, Gabrielle Huston’s excitement for moving to a new city was at the forefront of their decision.

Gabrielle Huston (right) with her mother and step-father in Mont Tremblant. Photo submitted by Gabrielle Huston.

Growing up two hours north of Toronto, Huston didn’t have the option of staying home for school, but still wanted to be close to their support system. In 2018, they moved into the city to attend the University of Toronto for social work, but soon realized they didn’t love the busyness of being in the heart of downtown.

In their time at the University of Toronto, Huston said they became interested in a more liberal arts-centred program and became more comfortable handling their mental health on their own. These factors led to Huston applying to a new school and moving in 2020.

“I felt more capable of being on my own after having done it for a year,” said Huston, “I finally decided to go to what had been my first choice all the way back in Grade 12 which was Carleton.”

Despite their first year being fully online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Huston still moved to Ottawa, six hours away from their home. “I really wanted to get to know Ottawa and it felt like I still might be able to,” Houston said. The desire for their own space was also a driving factor for moving, Houston admitted.

Along with the excitement of moving for university came the reality of navigating being on their own.

“I think balancing everything was so stressful and time-consuming,” Huston said, explaining that school became overwhelming and made it difficult to spend time with their friends. Houston said they “just didn’t have the time to devote to [friends]” because they were burned out.

“I was just using pure willpower to force myself through the day a lot of time,” Huston said.

Abebe echoed this sentiment, saying, “simply put, I just spent hours. I’d spend four hours on an assignment when I just needed two hours.”

The turning point for Abebe came when her father noticed that she was breathing heavily. “I was breathing deeply but I didn’t know; I thought I was just tired,” she said. Abebe explained that not resting properly and built-up stress led to her feeling the effects of burnout by the fall reading week.

To fix this, Abebe started organizing her days by prioritizing tasks to avoid spending too much time on one thing. 

Despite not working or doing extracurriculars in her first year, recent Carleton University graduate Lexie Armstrong got involved as much as possible in her second year. “Having a better balance actually made it easier for me to focus on things I needed to rather than not having anything,” she said.

To organize everything she does, Armstrong swears by her Google Calendar. “It’s my life and saviour,” she said, adding that she even has reminders to eat to avoid getting too caught up in studying.

“Just learning who I am as a person rather than just following my parents’ routine,” Armstrong said, explaining that while it took her a while to get the hang of navigating life as a young adult in a city on her own, she enjoyed getting to learn who she is, independent from her family.

“Moving to a new place and moving to a new city, I definitely wish that in first year I started right off the bat trying new things,” Armstrong said, adding that incoming students should try out as much as possible.

“Definitely try to make the most of it: join things and try them out,” she said, “worst case is that you don’t them.”.

Olivia Barrett is a Bachelors of Journalism and Humanities student at Carleton University. Her interests include photography and poetry which she uses to explore social justice issues and other intriguing fields. She also loves learning about history and ancient religions.  Olivia writes on social issues, well-being, and out of curiosity.