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In college, I changed schools every year. Could I learn to stay put?

(Washington Post illustration; iStockphoto)

I once moved from one Manhattan apartment to another using nothing but a few friends and a couple of taxi rides. With the exception of a few key items sprawled across the laps of people in the back seat, everything I owned at the time could fit in a couple of taxi cab trunks.

For the past few years, I had been living lean and ready to fold up at a moment’s notice. While some people’s college experiences are charted with lots of partying or studying, my time in college could best be marked by where I was living at any given time during those four years. I started at the University of Georgia; then moved to San Jose State for a year; then went abroad to London and finally finished my bachelor’s at New York University. When people ask me where I went to school, “all over” is the most accurate answer.

At the time, I was trying to figure out who I was. I wanted to be out in the world, not just cooped up in a classroom until I could hit the bars on the weekend. So whenever I saw an opportunity to learn something new and get closer to being in a city I thought I would thrive in, I took it.

As a result, I had to be able to move easily and adapt quickly. When I went to California, I fit everything in my Toyota Corolla, which my mom and I drove across the country. When I went to London, I stuffed my life into two suitcases and showed up without even a Frommer’s. And when I got to New York, I once more unpacked my stuff out of my Corolla, this time with my dad’s help. An hour after he’d left, I’d already applied for a job across the street from my dorm.

Living in places for such short periods of time made it hard to foster deep relationships. Professors and potential mentors who took an interest in me early in school could not help me once I left their campuses. I was offered an internship after my freshman year in Athens, Ga., but wasn’t able to take it because I was already off to California.

I was also rebuilding my social circle in each new location. Even once I made friends, saying goodbye was often the hardest part. I knew that no matter how many emails or calls we would exchange, I was missing out on being a bigger part of their lives.

When I finally moved to New York, I was excited to call a new city home. After the first year, my summer internship turned into a part-time job, which eventually led to my full-time job upon graduation. I developed strong friendships with my co-workers at the bookstore where I worked on the weekends.

However, building a life somewhere isn’t as easy as staying put. Even though I had a few apartments that I settled into enough to call home, every couple of years I would have to move because of rent hikes or changing roommates. During one of these moves, I realized how much stuff I had accumulated. What could previously fit into a few taxi trunks now required movers to navigate narrow stairways and haul cheap but heavy furniture.

Friends started moving out of the city, and I began to realize that being on the other side of the goodbyes wasn’t any easier. While co-workers and friends went off chasing dreams, I wondered whether I would just be stuck forever working two jobs, moving from apartment to apartment. Being the one who stayed meant that I didn’t have to deal with the uncertainty of a new adventure, but sometimes it felt a lot like being left behind.

It took a while to realize that laying down roots can be as difficult as constantly being on the move. When I moved from place to place, the journey was uniquely my own. But staying put, I’ve felt a deep sense of responsibility to be there for the ones I love and to give myself some stability.

There is no way I could pack up my apartment in a suitcase anymore. But I have also made my apartment a home through the stuff I’ve acquired and the people I share it with.

Over the years, I have repeatedly talked with my New York friends about leaving the city, and sometimes I let my mind wonder what that might look like. But for now, I keep it to the hypothetical. I want to continue building, even if I don’t know what the end result will look like.

And if I do decide to leave, I know I can survive with just me and a suitcase. Maybe two. At this point, there’s a lot more I’d like to take with me.


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