Dorms. Roommates. RAs. Each of these things is often considered a staple of college life. The cramped, close quarters of dorms may not be an appealing part of the freshman experience, but it helps students foster close relationships. But what about students who wake up and go to bed miles away from campus? How do they make connections?
Commuters make up about 50% of CBU students, according to Emilee Thomas, assistant director of campus activities for Community Life.
“The challenges associated with a weekly commute ranging from 35 minutes to an hour primarily revolves around traffic,” said Destiny Jara, sophomore business administration major and commuter. “Traffic conditions tend to vary each day, with particularly challenging days arising when accidents occur or freeways are closed, significantly extending the travel time.”
But travel time is not the only challenge commuters face. Commuters may also struggle to find social outlets, especially since they haven’t yet connected with other students.
“Relationships take time to develop, and since commuters have less time on campus, they don’t have as much of an opportunity to grow close,” said Dr. Cynthia Boes, professor of communication studies. “Commuters are likely more comfortable going home right after classes because they don’t have those close relationships on campus already.”
Gerald Bautista, junior nursing major, recognized this difficulty in his own experience.
“I do believe that being a commuter adds this invisible barrier which could prevent valuable experiences and friendships,” Bautista said. “I didn’t talk to a lot of people outside of class when I was a freshman.”
The good news is that with a little time and effort, commuters can find community across the campus.
“One thing they can do is identify any classmates they see as having some similarities to them,” Boes said. “Invite those classmates to hang out between classes, get lunch together, study or go to another activity on campus. … Also, joining a club can be great because it means spending time with other people who have similar interests, which can make early conversations easier.”
Thomas recommends similar advice, including attending commuter-oriented events.
“We would strongly encourage students to join the Commuter Club, attend one of our Commuter Cafes, [and] be a part of any and all Community Life events throughout the year. Use the Community Life Lounge as a hangout spot, [and] most of all, just keep putting yourself out there and meeting new people,” Thomas said.
“It’s night and day comparing my freshman year to now,” Bautista said. “Back then, I had one or two friends I would hang out with, but now I talk to most of my classmates and we even hang out outside of class.”
Clubs have offered a starting point for many students.
“In the beginning, yes, it was harder to make connections on campus, but as I started to go to more events and get involved in a club, it was a lot easier to talk and connect with others,” said Amanda Salas, senior graphic design major. “It really all comes down to being open to talking to people and connecting with them on a regular basis.”
Fellow commuter Jara wanted to encourage commuters struggling to make connections.
“Get involved through any of the ways that the university offers,” Jara said. “This could include joining clubs, participating in events, joining an intramural, attending group exercise classes at the gym or connecting with classmates. It’s important not to feel pressured to step too far out of your comfort zone but rather focus on engaging in activities that align with your interests, as this leads to the natural development of friendships.”
For any commuter not convinced, Boes gives one last piece of advice.
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of working up 15 seconds of courage to approach somebody, and once we do that, the hardest part is over,” Boes said. “It’s just a matter of keeping the conversation going from that point. If we show real curiosity about the people around us and ask questions about them and their lives, people tend to respond.”
Fifteen seconds of courage. Real curiosity. Genuine questions. Follow this advice and see where it goes. And who knows? It may be all it takes to create a lifelong friendship.