Those first few weeks after move-in almost seemed like summer camp. It felt like any day I would return to my own bed, home-cooked meals, and of course, my dog. The weeks eventually turned to months without returning to the place I grew up, and I was really missing home. I isolated myself to my dorm room and constantly reminisced about my friends, family, and being able to shower without flip flops on.
Eventually, I realized that a change needed to be made, and I decided to put my foot down. I wasn’t going to make Kalamazoo my home by sitting in my dorm and watching Netflix by myself in my free time. I’d had enough. It was my college experience, and I wanted to get the most out of it. I wanted to feel as happy in Kalamazoo as I did in my hometown.
Here are five things that I did to make Western Michigan University my home during my first year. Try these ideas in your own life and you, too, will feel at home here at WMU.
1. Get Involved
I know it sounds cliché, and everyone tells you to get involved, but there is a reason why they do. Joining an organization creates the opportunity to make so many new friends while doing what interests you! From the squirrel club to acapella groups, there is something on campus for you. I joined a sorority my freshman year and have made some of the best friends of my life through it. WMU also has a club or organization that corresponds to almost every major, so definitely check those out too. I joined AdClub, an academic club to go along with my advertising and promotion major. I have made so many friends that share my interests and passions who I otherwise wouldn’t have met. The people you meet from getting involved will soon be the people you wave to on campus, and seeing familiar faces throughout your day will make you feel at home. I promise.
2. Go to on-campus events
Whether you’re a die-hard football, hockey and basketball fan, or if you’re like me and know absolutely nothing about the sport, go to the games! Going to football games gave me so much pride in my school. At sporting events, I wasn't just another frantic freshman who never takes their lanyard off. I was part of the WMU student body. We all stand as one big WMU family with one common goal: to absolutely destroy the other team. That sense of pride and togetherness you get when cheering on your team is a feeling like nothing else. It's a feeling of belonging; a feeling of home. Fight on, fight on for Western!
3. Explore the area
You aren’t going to feel at home by only knowing your way around campus, so go out and explore! There are so many fun and free (I know we’re all dead broke) things to do in Kalamazoo. My freshman year, I discovered Lillian Anderson Arboretum, a really cool hiking trail a few miles away from campus. Some friends and I also went to the apple orchards at Gull Meadow Farms, which is perfect for a nice fall day. The food truck rallies are also fun things to go to for my fellow foodies out there, and awesome for when you want a change in pace from the cafeteria. The list goes on and on! When I started to become familiar with the area and know my surroundings outside of campus, I began to feel much more in my element and a lot less like a new kid in town. I can now proudly give directions and recommend restaurants, which really makes me feel like a local.
4. Remember that every time is a good time to make a friend
I, like many incoming freshman, came from a place where I knew everyone and everyone knew me. Making friends was a foreign topic, because the people I grew up with for 18 years were my friends. Coming to a new environment knowing no one, I had to learn how to make friends. As I would soon find out, you can truly make friends in the most unlikely of places. I met one of my best friends my freshman year in an English class. I was checking the dining app on my phone, and we bonded over a shared excitement about mac and cheese day. “Home” is really about the people inside it. For that reason, by remembering to put yourself out there and open yourself up to meeting new people – whether it’s in class, while you’re brushing your teeth in the community bathrooms, or when you’re eating lunch at the caf – you can feel at home before you know it.
5. Stop and smell the roses
Feeling at home also means changing your mentality. Rather than sulking in the fact that you’re in a new, unfamiliar environment, try to appreciate the beauty that surrounds you. Instead of hustling to class everyday with your head down, look up. Enjoy your surroundings. In my years here at WMU, I have seen the most amazing sunsets, the gorgeous changing of the leaves in fall, and snowy scenes more beautiful than anywhere else. Enjoying the area around you beyond the walls of a classroom or your dorm will make you feel so much more at home. So, really, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses, or in our case, the brown-eyed susans (that’s where WMU got its colors!)!
After my first few months at WMU, I could proudly call it my home. It was not an easy task, but if it was easy, it wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding. I now have a family at Western who I can make memories with every day. Instead of sitting in my dorm watching Netflix all by myself, I now have friends who will be right there by my side picking our next movie or show.
With a little bit of time and effort, getting involved, exploring, making new friends, and stopping to smell the brown-eyed susans, I can happily say that WMU has my heart. And as the old saying goes, “home is where the heart is.”
Lydia Burton is a junior at Western Michigan University studying advertising and promotion with a minor in fashion merchandising. Although she spends most of her time shuffling around the Haworth College of Business, she does venture across campus from time to time. She has spent nearly two semesters as a marketing intern for the College of Fine Arts, where she produces social media content, formats blog posts, and now writes her own. Attending University Theatre productions and exploring exhibitions at the Richmond Center for Visual Arts are two of her favorite things to do on campus. After graduation, Lydia plans on working for an advertising firm. While she loves WMU, she is counting down the days to begin her life under an identity other than “broke college student.” Woo!