Photos by Lauren Thomas
This isn’t New York. The thought rushed through my head several times during my two-hour trip to New Paltz. As soon as the Thruway wrapped into Sloatsburg, New York City seemed light years away — with each mile, the knot in my gut coiled tighter. Commercial shopping plazas grew few, replaced by modest businesses, while housing complexes faded into family farms, granting passing cars a glimpse at orchids, cows and horses. The further from home we drove, the fresher the air became. I remember how cool it felt against my skin the first time I left the car. The thought of an early winter terrified me.
To some, tranquility might have been a welcomed transition. But to me, my new surroundings were overwhelming. Suddenly, I began to wonder if leaving home was the right decision.
But after my first week at SUNY New Paltz, my uneasiness morphed into something unexpected: a rush of adventure.
Admittedly, dorming was different than expected. Influenced by television clichés, I was convinced my roommates and I would be inseparable and when I realized otherwise, I was plagued with self-doubt. In time, I learned that roommates are not conventional friends, but rather take on the role of siblings in what seems like the most unconventional of homes. With respectful boundaries comes a fond appreciation.
As if adapting to a roommate wasn’t strange enough, growing accustomed to sharing a residence hall with hundreds of other students was even more bizarre. On more than one occasion, I was torn from my slumber by a 4 a.m. fire alarm, set off by a student who didn’t pay enough attention to their hair straightener. And when the blare of the alarm didn’t wake me, post-party chatter often did the trick. And while we’re talking about neighbors, let’s just say I know more about their personal lives than I’d ever care to.
However, alongside those annoyances come the pleasant surprises of res life.
In high school, the time spent with your peers is limited to seven-hour school days. In college, however, your relationship with your classmates exceeds further than classroom doors. The same person who sits across from you in creative writing class might live across the hall. You may discover your R.A. also likes unwinding in the gym after sunset…and for that matter, you might even run into your Italian professor doing laps in the campus pool.
I’ve raced down my resident hall’s stairs to find a lone student sitting in the corner, serenading passersby with her guitar. There have been hectic days cured by a neighbor’s friendly smile and sleepy showers brightened by messages penned across the bathroom mirror. And let’s not forget about the time I burst into impromptu theatre rehearsal in the Bouton laundry room.
But New Paltz’s hidden gems lurk further than campus dorms.
There were nights spent sprawled across the soccer field, watching shooting stars soar across the sky and snowy Mondays curled up at open mic night. There were midnight rendezvouses to the Mohonk Preserve under the moonlight and early Saturdays lined up at the Main Street Bistro for a hearty breakfast. Rosehip tea warmed even the coldest of winter treks, while spring gave rise to mornings sunbathing on the quad. Countless hours have flown by biking on the trails, gliding past artists on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail bridge, breezing past the Wallkill River and onward towards the horse ranch resting in the shadow of the mountains.
It’s so easy to lose yourself in the beauty of New Paltz. A sense of clarity comes as you tread deeper and deeper into nature. Stepping away from campus allows for reflection and with that reflection, renewal. When residence life begins to feel like a fish bowl, take the opportunity to appreciate the scenery. After all, people trek to the Hudson Valley from all over the world to take in the Shawangunk Mountains and the rich autumn hues. For the next four years, you’ll wake up to the same views people travel miles to see. Embrace them.