College move-in: A family affair as students prepare for their new homes at college

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Marc Wilson had only been in his college dorm room at University of Houston for around two hours but had already decorated the walls with pictures of family and friends and a florescent sign that read “Good Vibes.”

“I want to feel at home,” the architecture major said, looking around the room he’d share with a person he’d yet to meet.

A team of family and friends, including his parents, older brother, best friend, two cousins and godparents from Saudi Arabia, helped the Missouri City teen quickly get situated in the space in Cougar Village II, where he’ll spend the next year.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Wilson said. “But living in my house these past 18 years, it’s definitely different.”

“I’m excited to see where this next chapter in my life takes me,” he said with a big smile. “I know I should feel sad. I am going to be sad, but it’s going to be exciting.”

His family shared the same sentiment. His mother Dana Jorsling, who had already been asked numerous times how she felt, said she hadn’t processed her youngest son leaving the nest but called it a “natural part of life.”

By the time Wilson and his family reach the elevator, everyone was crying — including mom.

For many Houston colleges, this weekend marks the beginning or the end of college move-in, when thousands of first-time college students and their families pack and unpack boxes and suitcases of clothing and shoes, decorative lights, storage cubes, and keepsakes to make their new homes — dorms and apartments on campus — feel like home ahead of the upcoming school year. And as it’s a family affair, colleges are welcoming both students and their families with great fanfare.

On Friday, UH staff and volunteers offered free golf cart rides from parking lots to dorm rooms and hosted cheering lines of upperclassmen as students first entered their buildings. UH President Renu Khator, donning a red shirt, could be seen front and center embracing students with hugs, handshakes and selfies, and pushing big blue bins of students’ belongings down the halls.

“It’s awesome always to have the students back because without the students, it seems like the spirit and soul of the campus is not here,” Khator said. “So I’ve been waiting to get the students back, and Monday is going to be beautiful. That’s when 45,000 come.”

Don Yackley, executive director of Student Housing and Residential Life, said though numbers fluctuate throughout the year, around 98.5 percent of UH’s housing is now occupied — with around 2,600 students planning to move in by Friday. The university plans to reopen its Quad housing, located across from the Cougar Village II dormitory, in August 2020, which will have 1,189 suite-style spaces.

“We move in 7,200 people, and their friends and family and chosen family show up for it, too,” Yackley said.

Aaisha Singh, 18, of Katy, who came to UH to study biotechnology, called it “surreal.”

“It’s a whole different experience,” she said — for her parents, too.

“I’m worried about her,” her father Rituraj Singh admitted. Both he and his wife Leena Singh attended school in India, so having their daughter attend college in the United States is a new venture, but Aaisha’s roommate is a friend from elementary school — a comfort for them all.

“The only conflicts will be with who’s going to clean the bathroom,” her mother Leena Singh joked.

At the University of St. Thomas on Thursday, students — the largest number the college had ever seen — were eager to move in and were also welcomed with music, cheers and upperclassman who helped them push large yellow buckets of comforters, clothing and TVs up to their rooms in the Guinan Residence Hall.

“We just moved stuff up. That’s the easiest part. Now we have to figure out where it goes,” said Chad Norris, the father of Braden Norris, 18, one of the newest recruits for the university’s baseball team, which was reestablished this year after it discontinued in 1969.

Braden, who said his dorm must-haves were his PlayStation 4 and his TV, said both the move-in and being part of the school’s newest baseball team is exciting. As for moving away from his parents, he said with a smirk: “I’m happy to get rid of them.”

Ana Alicia Lopez, the director of Residence Life and Conference Housing, said there was a 17 percent increase in students living in Guinan Hall, with more than half of students living on campus coming from homes a commutable distance from campus — many citing they wanted the full college experience.

Students are also increasingly requesting rooms that sleep three people rather than two, resulting in the addition of 60 more triple rooms over the past three years. The space in triples is often tighter — fitting three loft beds with desks underneath — but the rent, at $1,995 per person, is cheaper, saving each student a little more than $1,700 per year in comparison to students who pick rooms sleeping only two.

“It’s a little crowded, but it’s not too bad,” said Cilicia Duron of Sugar Land. She and her other roommates Samantha Martinez, of Houston, and Sophia Sanchez, of Austin, all 18, chose a triple because it was more affordable, and living on campus — avoiding what could have been an hour-and-a-half commute to school — was a high priority.

Roommates Magdalena Hill, 18, of the Heights, and Mandie Rodriguez, 18, of Garwood, were halfway unpacked Wednesday afternoon and were reflecting on their experiences at the university thus far.

Rodriguez, who will study liberal arts with a focus on classical languages and psychology, participated in the college’s Mendenhall Summer Institute, a five-week program that invites incoming freshmen with proven academic abilities and co-curricular involvement to campus to start their college career early, according to the St. Thomas website. Being on campus this summer allowed her to learn her way around. It also allowed her mother, Elma Rodriguez, a way to get used to her only child being away from home, she said.

Rodriquez said she was originally set on attending University of Texas at Austin, but coming from a small high school, and being a fan of museums, attending a school with a smaller campus in the museum district seemed more fitting.

“If she’s excited, I’m excited,” Elma Rodriguez said.

For Hill, who is studying English, St. Thomas is a familiar place and a major part of her upbringing.

Her parents both attended the university, and her mother stayed in the same dorm building while she was there. While her mother got teary-eyed while leaving, Hill said her siblings were less affected by her leaving home. They’re already preying on who will get what of her furniture back at home, she said.

The overall experience has been one of firsts, however. She’ll be living in the Montrose area as an adult for the first time, and she’ll have to learn the campus now as a student.

“I was nervous about making friends, but when I got here, I thought, ‘I can probably do this,’” Hill said.

So far, so good.

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