College culture shock! A guide to moving away to college


There’s something difficult about leaving home when your state song literally declares “home means Nevada to me.” Nonetheless, as the college application process began, I knew that I wanted to move away for college, preferably to the East Coast. I pictured myself somewhere with a global worldview: D.C., New York City, anywhere in the Boston area. Never did I think I would find a school in the South, fall in love at first sight, and apply early decision. Thankfully, financials fell into place, I was accepted to a living-learning community, and I survived the “Hunger Games” of class registration!

None of this, however, could prepare me for the total change in cultures from the West Coast to the South. I tried to prepare myself by researching on Pinterest, Instagram, endless blogs, and anything else the Internet had to offer, to little avail. So here it is: the advice I wish I could’ve given myself about college culture shock. 

1. Embrace the great things about this new culture

The South and the Southern way of living have so much to offer, especially in terms of hospitality and nice weather — things I never would’ve gotten to experience if I had stayed in northern Nevada. Similarly, you may be moving somewhere where the environment (both physical and social) is totally different from what you’re used to. Stay open to experiencing the beautiful things that this new experience has to offer.

  • Explore food options that weren’t available to you at home. Getting a group together for a culinary adventure is a great way to make friends and collectively broaden your horizons.
  • I’ve found that the only thing sweeter in the South than the sweet tea is the people. Take the chance to get to know the people and the community — both on and off campus.
  • In the South, people get dressed up for football games. Excuse me, what? Yeah, it shocked me too, but it taught me to try new things. Celebrate and relish this opportunity. You are finally getting decide who you want to be for yourself (!!!), and deciding to (or not to) adopt new behaviors is a step in independence.
They’re as curious about you as you are about them.

2. Understand your new community’s quirks

  • Very quickly, you’ll learn you know nothing about geography. For example, I learned northern Virginia is hardly Southern, and Florida isn’t at all. Take time to learn about the world beyond just your campus.
  • Get out and explore your new community and meet new people. They’re as curious about you as you are about them. You may never get a chance like this again.
  • Many of my classmates have gone to D.C. every year since the first grade, so seeing the monuments doesn’t sound like an exciting way to spend a Saturday to them — but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t to me! Be excited about experiencing everything — even the basics that some locals would consider mundane.
  • Style is so, so, so different. Go shopping with a local and see what they consider to be the height of fashion (giggling is allowed).

That being said, be respectful of differences. Please note that the title of this section says to understand the quirks of the area. As a transplant, it is important to consider the valuable aspects of your new home’s complex history and manner. Take the time to ask people about fundamental things, like what they were taught about history, or even popular sports (volleyball’s huge on the West Coast, lacrosse on the East) — you’ll be surprised by what you (and they) discover by sharing your most basic experiences.

Take the time to ask people about fundamental things … you’ll be surprised by what you (and they) discover by sharing your most basic experiences.

3. Bring your unique perspective and experiences to the table

I was one of the first (if not the first ever) West Coaster my new classmates had met, and chances are, if you’re moving far from home, it could be the same in your case. Embrace your uniqueness and use it as a topic of conversation.

  • People on the West Coast talk about going to Coachella, but in the South, it’s more of a fantasy in a far-away land (three thousand miles and three time zones makes it just that).
  • The way people experience weather is totally different. It’s perfectly fine that you’re wearing a fleece and heavy jacket when it’s fifty degrees, even though your friends from New England are only sporting a hoodie.
  • Boast a little hometown pride — and don’t be afraid to make it your caption on Instagram when you find other people from home (or even near home) — because you will, and you will bond. Mostly about being so far from home, but hey, you’ve gotta start somewhere.
College is about finding yourself, or ultimately, creating yourself and defining the person you want to be.

4. Allow yourself to become a blend of both cultures

College is about finding yourself, or ultimately, creating yourself and defining the person you want to be. Allow this person to be a healthy blend of both cultures. “Y’all” has slipped into conversations with friends from home without thinking twice about it. (My auto-correct will get used to it, too, with time.) It’s okay to call home to be reminded of what familiar things feel like. Things may always feel more familiar at home, but you wouldn’t have discovered new favorites without moving away.

5. Join the chorus

This goes for the college experience in general: get involved! The biggest change, regardless of where you’re going to college, is the fact that there’s a whole new academic and social landscape. Yes, it can be as terrifying as offering the world your heart on a silver platter, but at the end of the day, it’s a matter of getting involved. Don’t be afraid to start small — hanging out with the people on your hall or from a class.

I don’t know if this is particularly a Southern thing, something we do at my school, or just a college thing in general, but this is my piece of advice: When “Sweet Caroline” or “Wagon Wheel” begins to blare, regardless of the social setting, join the chorus and do so unabashedly.

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About the author

Sabrina CabezasSabrina is an upcoming sophomore at the University of Richmond, majoring in international studies and minoring in education and society, with plans to revolutionize global education standards. She is involved in the Virginia Eta chapter of Pi Beta Phi and the women’s ultimate Frisbee team, loves elephants and pistachio ice cream, and has her own blog.

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