For most freshmen at UC Berkeley, February was a month filled with Valentine’s Day cards, basketball games and DeCal fairs. For me, it was a month of roommate-mediation meetings, apartment tours and box-packing.
Four weeks into the semester, I gathered my belongings and moved from a triple dorm room about the size of a hamster cage to a studio apartment by myself.
My new lodging is farther from campus, located in a 10-unit apartment complex, and overlooks a neglected herb garden that was once cared for by my landlord. The place is essentially a run-down cottage. It is peaceful, no doubt, and cool in that brooding poet type of way.
The day I moved into my new home, I was bubbling with excitement. Independence, tranquility, a private bathroom — they were all finally mine! Out of the dorms and in the real world, I felt mature and sophisticated. But the fact of the matter is, my apartment is fairly isolated and can make even the most vivacious student feel very lonely, very quickly. What I didn’t know was that in order to get privacy and independence, I had to trade community.
When I first moved, I noticed that the silence in the apartment was overwhelming to the point of being loud. It made me hyperaware that there was, in fact, none of that background noise I had grown so accustomed to while living in the dorms.
It took me only a few days to realize the social situation in this apartment complex was quite different than that of the dorms. Doors are shut, voices are hushed and tenants don’t really trouble themselves with getting to know the other people on their floor, which was fine — at least at first, when I had my own friends bustling in and out of my apartment, visiting and bringing housewarming gifts. I was busy hanging posters and testing out my new oven. But when all that settled down, I started to hear the silence.
Initially, I thought this lonely feeling was a result of my own lack of sociability. I just needed to be more extroverted! So I went around knocking on doors and introducing myself. I got a lot of smiles and kind words, but never an invitation to come inside. I decided to try harder. I started doing my homework by the herb garden, expecting others to come join me like they used to in the dorm lounges. No one ever came.
I was feeling pretty lonely on one of my first nights in the apartment, eating Frosted Flakes and watching “Breaking Bad.” My default reaction, the one I had grown accustomed to in the dorms, was to visit a friend in the building. Braless and in my pajamas, I thought it would be a fine idea to go visit the cute boy who lived a floor below me. When I used to do this in the dorms, it was a casual gesture. I was halfway down the fire escape when I realized I would be unintentionally initiating a booty call. Knocking on the door of a single baseball player at midnight wearing nothing but a tank top and cotton pajamas shorts was a bold move in an apartment.
I didn’t make it to the baseball player’s room. I hiked back up to my place and listened to the silence around me. I could no longer rely on social reciprocation from others to bring me comfort. I needed to be proactive in my solitude. The privacy, something the dorms couldn’t offer, provided me with a space for reflection. I could now write songs, cook meals or play solitaire. Slowly but surely, I adapted to solo living, and surprisingly, I grew to love it.
A month later, I can now report that the silence is far less loud. It is drowned out by creative thoughts and meditative activities. I have developed an appreciation for the tranquility of this apartment. I listen to the meowing of the cat that sometimes wanders through the backyard, and I am overcome with a feeling of serenity. I write poetry, I take bubble baths, and I actually spend time folding my clothes — things I never could have done in the dorms. On campus, I practice being extroverted and social, and I am much more inclined to engage with friends instead of doing something alone. There are more lunch dates, study groups and lecture buddies throughout the day.
I look forward to returning to my run-down cottage retreat. It is an escape from the excitement of campus life and provides an ideal framework for reflection and relaxation. Moving to an apartment showed me that this is something you need in the context of a busy college social life. I study in the herb garden daily, and I secretly hope that no one comes to join me.