Last year, I wrote a post about the pros and cons of going to college close to home. What about people who go to college very far from home, though? As one such person, I know how daunting that idea can be. There are cultural, climate, time, and many other differences that can be challenging to adjust to. For the West Coasters out there who are considering Rochester, this one’s for you!
I interviewed a few Rochester students who are from the Pacific Northwest about their experiences going to school so far from home in a place that gets a lot more snow than they’re used to. Sarah is a senior from Everett, WA; Jerrod is a recent graduate from Federal Way, WA; and Claire is a senior from Oregon City, OR. Me, I’m also from Federal Way. Jerrod and I actually went to the same middle and high schools!
Q: What do you wish you had known about Rochester before coming?
Claire: “I wish I had known truly how long-winded the snowy winters here were, and just how cold it could get! My freshman year it snowed from October to April! I was not ready for it.”
When my mom visited me during Spring Break one year, there was still lots of snow, but as of March 3rd, 2021, almost all the snow is melted. The weather in Rochester is very variable, but you can still mentally prepare for long winters.
Jerrod: “Definitely being 2500+ miles away from home! I had zero family in upstate New York and I had no clue what the culture would be like moving there.”
I also don’t have any family remotely near New York, but that was only super noticeable when I stayed on campus during Thanksgiving break.
Sarah: “Being far away and knowing I couldn’t go home easily if I wanted to. It’s scary not being able to go home for breaks or weekends, but it also forces you to immerse yourself in your new life and enjoy all that Rochester has to offer.”
Q: What was the hardest part of coming to Rochester?
Claire: “The hardest part was leaving my support network (family and friends) to go across the country in a place I’d never been before where I didn’t know anyone. I’d grown up in the same town and same school district my whole life, so I was never the ‘new kid’ and always had support from friends and family around me.”
Even across a great distance, your family and friends will still be there for you, and you’ll develop new relationships you can rely on for support. Rochester also has services for students that can help, such as counseling and residential staff who can help with all sorts of problems.
Jerrod: “I wish I knew Rochester and New York City are two VERY different places (and 5 hours apart). Sorry if you thought you’d spend your weekends exploring the city.”
Yeah, I still haven’t made it to NYC yet, and now that it’s the spring of my senior year and I’m not allowed more than 100 miles from campus because of COVID-19, I guess I missed that boat. Oh well, I’ll just have to come back to NY one day!
Q: How did you keep in touch with friends and family from back home?
Claire: “I have group chats with my friends from back home on Twitter, Instagram, etc., that we chat in almost every day to keep in touch. I use Facebook Messenger to facetime my family (mom, dad, brother), along with Snapchat. And I text. I’ve been so thankful for technology in allowing me to keep in touch with my family and friends back home.”
Jerrod: “Social media is really good at making us feel connected with people from so far away so my main way of staying in touch was through Snapchat, Instagram etc. I would FaceTime my family at least once a week and I did the same with my friends.”
Sarah: “Snapchat and lots of FaceTime and phone calls!”
In addition to social media and calling, I’m a big fan of snail mail to keep in touch with friends and family!
Q: How would you compare Seattle/Portland with Rochester?
Jerrod: “Rochester is definitely a mobile city so in terms of ways to get around it’s a little [more difficult] than Seattle but still accessible.”
Hopefully, at some point, you make an adventurous friend with a car or get a subscription to Zipcar so you can get into the city more! There is a Rochester city bus system, but in my experience, it’s not super expansive or frequent. Some of the University’s shuttles also go off-campus, which allows you to branch out, but I don’t think they go downtown. The most city-dwelling I’ve done during my time here has been when my mom came to visit me and when the University sponsored trips to shows downtown.
Sarah: “Rochester is definitely a much smaller city, but there’s still lots of bars and restaurants to explore with your friends, and once you’re downtown it’s very walkable. There’s a lot less homeless people downtown than in Seattle [or] Portland.”
Overall, Seattle, Portland, and Rochester have pretty similar climates (except for snow), love of coffee shops, foodie-friendliness, and art scenes. Sarah recommends Java’s and Fuego if you’re interested in exploring Rochester coffee shops.
Q: What are the biggest cultural differences?
Claire: “There’s not much of a Hispanic population here from what I notice, in terms of Hispanic food. We have lots of Hispanic and Mexican food places back home that are so good, and I really miss it when I come back here. But Rochester is really diverse with food in many other ways! Also, just coming here to the UR was a major culture shock, in the best way possible. My hometown is small and very white, and I learned so much within the first month of being here in Rochester my freshman year. Being exposed to and talking with people from all over the world, with various cultures, religions, ideologies has been really eye-opening and I’m so thankful for it. It’s been one of the best parts about coming here for school.”
Yes, the demographic makeups of the PNW and Rochester are very different. For example, in Rochester there are several Caribbean restaurants, which I had never seen back home. Conversely, there are lots of Thai and Vietnamese restaurants near my house, but not as many in Rochester. Rochester also has a sizable deaf population, which probably has something to do with it being one of the most deaf-friendly cities in the US.
Sarah has noticed a lot of cultural differences, including that people from the PNW are “way more outdoorsy and stereotypically granola”. Admittedly, I had to look up what “granola” means in this context. In line with this observation, people in Rochester seem to wear less flannel, more [LL] Bean boots (rather than hiking boots), and spend less on recreation in favor of material goods. Also, nobody says “the mountain is out” like we do in Western Washington.
Another major difference in Rochester, as Sarah pointed out, is that people know how to drive and live in the snow. In the Seattle area, a dusting once a year means schools are closed for at least a day, and getting a few inches is the most exciting thing. A lot of people don’t have cars that can drive in the snow, which isn’t helped by the many hills. In Rochester, if a storm dumps a foot overnight, things pretty much carry on as normal. We have the infrastructure to handle lots of snow, which keeps the roads and walkways clear. Snow is generally just not a big deal in Rochester.
Q: What do you miss most about the Pacific Northwest?
Claire: “I miss Oregon rain, which is different from Rochester rain, just trust me. I also miss the people there, my friends, and family.”
Jerrod: “The trees!”
Sometimes you don’t realize how much you enjoy something until it’s not around, like the mountains for Sarah, myself, and a friend from Salt Lake City. I had also taken being so close to the water for granted, for both its views and recreational activities. However, Lake Ontario is less than an hour from campus if you need to get your fix of a coast. For other outdoor activities, upstate New York has lots of options too. Rochester even has an outing club that takes weekly trips for hikes, backpacking trips, camping, and more.
Q: Any advice or words of wisdom for prospective students?
Claire: “I would say that coming to a completely new place all alone can be extremely stressful and lonely, but if you just be yourself, get to know those around you, you will make friends and build a strong support network here that will be there for you. And also to just take a breath, take a break, and have fun.”
Jerrod: “Do your best to get out of your comfort zone! Initially you’re going to gravitate towards people/crowds that feel familiar to home but U of R is so diverse you’ll be hurting yourself if you don’t friend people from different backgrounds. Document E V E R Y T H I N G. Senior year you are gonna be so thankful you have all those recorded videos/photo memories from freshman year to look back on. But don’t forget to live in the moment as well!”
That said, you probably don’t need to keep every snow or groundhog picture you excitedly take during your time at UofR.
Sarah: “Be aware that there’s a lot of subtle cultural differences and it’s scary being so far away, but definitely worth doing and Rochester is a great place to go to school. Personally, I loved getting to escape the rain and live somewhere with four seasons, but from living in Rochester I realized I vibe more with west coast culture personally.”
Although adjusting to being so far from home in a place that may seem very different from what you’re used to, remember why you chose to come to Rochester. It’s a great opportunity for personal development, becoming independent, and experiencing another part of the country. It may be difficult at first, but trust me, it will be worth it.