Home and Away: Experiences of Moving Out or Staying at Home During Your Uni Days
Following Cinderella’s footsteps, I run for the last train and make it through just as the doors rattle shut. The train reluctantly pulls away from Newtown station. I dial my dad’s phone number to let him know I will be home in an hour’s time. My watch reads: 12AM. For some, the night has just begun. For me, the night should have long since ended.
No, what keeps me from partying until 4AM isn’t an evil stepmother, but the fact that I continue to live at home despite being in my third year of university. Curfews - as unwritten as they may be - still apply. “Don’t stay out too late!” my mother always reminds me whenever I leave the house after sundown.
Apparently I’m not at all a special case. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of students living with their parent or parents have increased by about two per cent between 2001 and 2011.
As holistic as statistics may feel, numbers rarely tell individual - and often disparate - stories. Shamima Khan, a Business student at UTS who also still lives with family, has quite a different experience to me. For her, maintaining independence isn’t a problem. She finds that staying at home has actually helped her better take care of herself and others.
“I do most of the shopping and clean up my own mess and prepare my own meals. My mum helps out with the dishes and laundry. We make it work together.”
Her form of procrastination is tidying up the house -- a trait I find remarkable (whenever I procrastinate, I do nothing more than binge watch the entire Sherlock series).
Shamima chose to remain at her family home because “moving out is so expensive.” With Sydney currently ranked as having the world’s “second most unaffordable” housing, her reason isn’t surprising at all.
But this free accommodation comes at a cost. Shamima’s commutes to university are long, frequent and tedious. I do my readings on the train; she can’t read on moving vehicles. “I lose about three hours per day just on travel when I could be using that time to study.”
To minimise commute times, Tahni, a Media and Communications student at USyd who lives away from home, says she “pick[s] places that are close to uni.” She affirms it’s a struggle finding affordable, well-kept housing in the Inner-West that “feels like home.”
Tahni first moved from her rural hometown to urban Sydney five years ago, with a group of friends. “It was fucking scary!” she said.
“At that time I had no idea how long a six months lease actually was… it’s six months we’re going to be in this apartment and ‘are we going to be able to afford it, week to week?’”
The greatest challenge for her has been finding good roommates to live with. “Even with friends, you don’t know whether they always have your best interests at heart... Do they like going grocery shopping? If not, do they like doing the cleaning? How do you balance [the workload]? How do you make sure you don’t get taken advantage of?”
But living with roommates also has its perks. When Tahni was sick with food poisoning, it was her roommate who took her to the emergency building, acting as a surrogate family member.
Despite being physically separate from her real family, Tahni says she feels “closer” to them now more than ever. “Before when I was living at home … it was very mechanical mundane everyday life sort of business, whereas now, if I have something that I’m excited about, I’ll call my mum and tell her; if I need her advice, I’ll call her and ask her.”
This isn’t the case for James Chiraphatnachai, an English and Film Studies Student at Usyd, who has lived away from home for about three to four years now. With his mum in Sydney and the rest of his family in Thailand, James finds that because he wasn’t very close to his family to begin with, the physical distance has made communication even more difficult. “It’s just an occasional hello and updates on my life… update that you’re alive every once in a while.”
James admits he does miss the stability - or at least “illusion of stability” - that his family provided. “When you’re independent, you can’t really ignore your own very real responsibilities… but when you live with family, you can put that [responsibility] aside.”
His solution? “I have to convince myself that everything is okay… I take it day by day and [tell myself] it’s not a disaster and things could be worse.” In other words, watch plenty of Netflix whenever you feel an existential crisis bubbling near the surface.
Initially Tahni also “lived day by day” but she soon realised it’s more far important to “[look] after yourself for the future instead of just living in the moment.” She emphasises self-discipline, down to things as minor as preparing next day’s lunch the night before, so as to avoid buying lunch and save money.
“It’s about making the conscious decision to save up,” says James. Choose walking to work instead of taking the bus. Make homemade meals instead of getting takeaway. (The most he manages these days is oats, toast and hot dogs.Thankfully his partner is a great cook.)
One hundred percent freedom, he says, is “kinda bad”.
Maybe it is not so bad then, that I will miss yet another party. Maybe there’s nothing better than hearing my sister greet me with the clicking of her keyboard and another rant about boys or how her day was or the latest K-Pop band. My mum will be pretending to sleep, but really, she’s listening out for the squeak of door hinges as I let myself in. My brother will be pacing in the room above. My glass slippers will really just be slippers. 12AM: bedtime.
Note: Tahni was reluctant for her surname to be publicly disclosed.