College life can teach more than academics

Four years ago, I left a world of home-cooked meals to find that food, if not as tasty, was still conveniently awaiting me four floors down. Dorm life can’t supply all the comfy goodness of

Four years ago, I left a world of home-cooked meals to find that food, if not as tasty, was still conveniently awaiting me four floors down. Dorm life can’t supply all the comfy goodness of home, but it usually provides a four-year buffer to ease over-indulged middle-class kids into the rent-paying, toilet-unclogging, driveway-shoveling realm of reality.

Not so at Temple University.

With our scrappy surroundings and our dorms given over to Frosh, our college experience is unique. As one about to graduate from the Temple School of Stop-Whining-And-Grow-Up-Already, I venture to suggest that pushing the chicks out of the proverbial nest after just one year can be darn good preparation for what awaits us on the outside.

In the two years since Temple gave me the boot, I’ve shared three rooms with eight Ukrainians in Europe and lost at poker to Italian grandmas in South Philly. I’ve gotten home safely via everything from a bus full of female-groping pickpockets to the back of a stranger’s motorcycle.

I’ve plunged toilets, cleared drains, defeated a rodent invader and parallel parked a 5-speed in a spot half its size.

I’ve manipulated landlords, pestered real-estate agents and resigned myself to paying weekly parking tickets.

And it makes me wonder how people fare at schools where the amenities are all part of the package. About half of Penn State’s Main campus students live in dorms – they’re actually cheaper than apartments out there, senior Matt Gilbert said.

“You’re a pretty big dork if you live there by senior year,” Gilbert said, but about 15 percent to 20 percent of students still do, including Gilbert.

For those of you evicted Owls who can’t remember what living in a dorm was like, a refresher: dorm life at Penn State, like most schools, means free Ethernet, phone lines, cable and maintenance services.

“It’s extremely good,” said Gilbert of maintenance. “They send people up right away, 24 hours a day, for everything from a refrigerator light out to a leaky pipe.”

Ah, round-the-clock service. I have that too. For instance, I have drowned mice in my bathroom at 3 a.m. on a weekend, as well as during regular business hours.

Gilbert said the most irritating part of graduating and moving out on his own this summer will be cooking his own meals.

“I was actually a chef last summer,” he said. “But it’s the amount of time it takes. Maybe I’ll get a liquid IV. That’d be easier.”

Here in the cheesesteak capital, we know better than to take our meals intravenously. One of my roommates does the full-fledged pasta and meatballs with red wine, family style.

The other eats potato chips with ketchup or orders take-out. Whichever route we take to individual alimentary satisfaction, we do it without the help of a meal plan.

And lots of us also foot the bill.

Patrice Luft moved from Peabody Hall to the Fairmount neighborhood just after her freshman year, and immediately found herself scouring nearby businesses for job openings.

Rent, cable, gas and groceries add up to a lot of financial stress for a 19-year-old with a full course load.

But for Temple students like Luft, now a junior, moving off campus also provides three years of experience in bill paying, apartment hunting and job searching by the time graduation rolls around.

I’ll bet there’s plenty to be said for the typical four-year dorm stay, and I sure enjoyed the time I spent eating laxative-infused cafeteria tacos and snitching toilet paper from communal bathrooms.

But I’ll take North Philly street smarts and big city savvy, thank you very much.

Elizabeth Vaughn can be reached at

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