Culture shock

Thought: Moving Rutgers Campuses Is Worth It, Even With Culture Shock

Like much of my cohort, the transition from grade 12 to freshman year of college was difficult, to say the least. Along with all the typical stressors one has to endure during any significant transitional period in one’s life, I also had to navigate a global pandemic determined to alter every aspect of life as I knew it.

Schools were still largely operating online at the time, meaning where I would enroll would be somewhat irrelevant as all it would change would be the extension of my unchanging student email account, and maybe where I might physically attend one day, assuming this whole plague business is cleared up in due course.

Needless to say, even if I could have attended an extravagant out-of-state school for an exorbitant amount of money, what would have been the point if, regardless of where I enrolled, I ended up by frequenting in the same place: my grandmother’s living room, on a Zoom call, listening to a hectic teacher, just as perplexed as her students by the overwhelming change in the classroom.

It was the set of circumstances that led me to enroll at Rutgers-Camden, a school that was good enough on its own, but not without its downsides. It was small, with the majority of the campus housed in an area no larger than a city block—one block directly across from its three student housing buildings.

Even then, housing was never an issue as the majority of the tiny student body commuted anyway. This may have, therefore, led to what I felt was a lack of student organizations.

These complaints are all minor, of course, and as I mentioned earlier, Rutgers—Camden is a great school, with good classes, taught mostly by good people. But I had something bigger in mind, so in mid-February of my sophomore year, I asked to transfer to Rutgers—New Brunswick.

Fast forward four months later, and I received my decision letter: I was there. And five more months (and a stupidly complicated transfer process) after that, here I am.

But even after completing the transfer process, there were some things I know now that I wish I had known in May about New Brunswick, if only to better prepare myself to attend this new school.

It’s much bigger

This is what I feel I cannot properly convey to people I meet here who have not seen the Camden campus in words alone. Rutgers—Camden is really tiny compared to New Brunswick. It’s a small part of a fairly large city, whereas Rutgers—New Brunswick is a city in and of itself.

Even if one were to keep in mind the disparity in the number of campuses (New Brunswick has five distributed campuses, while Camden has only one), Rutgers—Camden is smaller than any given campuses here in New Brunswick.

Rutgers—Camden may have been small, and it may have made me feel a little cramped, but it made getting around a lot easier.

Better to have a car on campus

Since Camden was so small and so close to several train stations (and by extension Philadelphia), the prospect of bringing a car to college was unappealing to say the least.

Why go through the hassle of paying for a parking permit, experiencing the discomfort of owning a car in a disreputable place like Camden and dealing with city driving when all and everything I’ll ever need is just a short train ride away, where the trains run 24/7?

That being said, I chose not to bring a car to campus and figured I would continue that policy in New Brunswick, thinking that since it was also largely urban, it would offer the same options for transportation.

Suffice to say that was not the case.

A fast train ride into town to get groceries turned claustrophobic, a late bus ride to class. And that’s assuming you live in an area where you’re lucky enough to have a single bus line to take you anywhere on campus you want to go and you don’t need to chain multiple bus rides to reach your destination.

And unless, by accident, all of your classes are on your home campus, you can forget about walking. My apartment on the Cook campus is 2 miles from my nearest other campus class, on the College Avenue campus. Not a Herculean task to walk I suppose, but definitely a longer trip than crossing the street as I was used to in Camden.

Seriously, these buses are really crowded

And they are unreliable to boot. I’ve counted several instances in just a month where a bus that was supposed to arrive in 10 minutes inexplicably grew to 30. And when a bus does show up, it’s not uncommon that there’s just no space for you on board, which means you have to wait for the next one and pray for it to be emptier.

I’ve been told that the bus load decreases as the semester goes on, and while that seems to be a bit of the case, I still have the occasional experience of desperately grabbing a hanging handle, trying to not colliding with the three people within an inch of me as I am now 20 minutes late due to traffic.

There are many people

If for some reason this point has not been clarified with the overcrowded buses, far more people frequent Rutgers—New Brunswick than Camden. For reference, Rutgers’ own website reports that around 6,500 students attend Camden, while New Brunswick has a student population of over 50,000, including Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “How could that be a surprise?” Weren’t you transferred to New Brunswick precisely because was it bigger? And certainly. But it’s not until you’re sitting in a lecture hall with 80 other students and walking home with your three roommates that you didn’t ask for that you realize the real leap of scale between the two places.

If you want your own room, you probably won’t get it unless you’re a resident assistant or sign the housing contract as soon as it becomes available.

There are opportunities around every corner

A bigger school with more people means more than crowded dorms and long transit times, you know. It also means you are more likely to meet people with more activities on offer given the more vibrant community.

One of my biggest complaints about online courses is the complete lack of chance encounters: sitting next to someone in English 101 who ends up becoming a lifelong friend you never would have spoken to. otherwise, seeing a flyer for an interesting club in the hallway and just showing up to see what it’s like, trying something new just for fun only to make it a passion, getting involved in your respective community – those are the reasons I was transferred to New Brunswick.

While I assume all of this was possible in Camden, active student life in New Brunswick due to its size and student population means you are almost guaranteed to meet someone new and find out something about yourself -even of which you may have had no idea before.

And even if I somehow knew that in May, I wish I could go back and reaffirm to myself that I’m right, and that at least for that reason, it’s a good idea to move on.