• Southwestern's academic mall

Everywhere I go, I enjoy making myself at home. If I’m staying in a hotel, I unpack all my belongings and arrange them just so, and I’m usually asked if I’m “planning on moving in” because I don’t travel light. If I’m in a coffee shop writing on my laptop, I have a specific setup for optimal efficiency: laptop to the left, notebook to the right, and my coffee right in the middle for accessibility. 

I’m no different when it comes to my school.

The following are three of my favorite places on the Southwestern campus, each being significant to me for their own unique reason, but all contributing to my overall—and crucial—feeling of home.

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” —J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Imagine: You’re a student in your first year at Southwestern. It’s a regular weekday, and you’ve just finished your first class. You enter Mood–Bridwell Hall, approach the elevator, ride it up to the third floor, walk down the hall toward the offices, and turn back around when you realize you’ve gone the wrong way (the Mood–Bridwell layout is confusing if you’re directionally challenged like me). Then, you finally reach your intended destination: a narrow hallway leading to two adjacent doors. They are to the offices of two academic advisors. You may not realize it now, but your existence, as you know it, has ended.

This is your first academic advising appointment at SU. You know the drill. You’ve had academic advising appointments either in high school or at a different university, and you know what to expect. Your advisor will tell you your options for classes in the upcoming semester, review your previous transcripts to make sure you’re on the right track to graduate, then send you on your merry way.

Wrong.

The reality: you enter as a first-year student at Southwestern University, but you leave as something entirely different. 

You’re no longer an introverted homebody who can’t stand being away from your house for longer than 12 hours. You’re now someone with serious wanderlust, taking the first step toward becoming a world traveler by applying for study abroad programs to live in a different country across the globe for an entire month or semester. Or perhaps you’re now the aspiring CEO of a start-up company preparing for the world of business through a program that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation, guiding you toward your ultimate goal of having complete autonomy over your time and your life. Or maybe you just talked to Associate Professor of Economics and Business Debika Sihi about her adorable dog, Biscuit, and now you have the urge to adopt a furry friend of your own.

Regardless of the outcome of your appointment, the academic advisors at SU are sure to turn your world topsy-turvy—but in an auspicious way. You’re now realizing that being a serious academic isn’t attainable only by individuals of the mental acumen of Einstein or Hawking; it’s a possibility for those who are simply earnest in their pursuit of learning. And you’re now understanding that the pursuit of learning isn’t confined to the elementary topics introduced to you in high school; it’s broadened to an abundance of specialized disciplines and opportunities that actually pique your interest, such as learning about human behavior through the study of animals or pursuing a passion project with the help of your professors.

So as you’re playing with the miniature Japanese zen garden sitting on Director of Business Internships and Assistant Professor of Business Andy Ross’s desk while pondering whether to go for that business and biology double major, or what type of internship opportunities you want to pursue for the summer, just know that your life is about to become significantly more complicated, but in the best possible way.

“Much in life is simply a matter of perspective.” —David Niven

Now we shift to a different setting: the grassy lawn known as the Academic Mall. It’s no surprise that Southwestern University possesses such an area, as most universities do. But this one offers something particularly valuable: perspective.

At this point in the day, you’ve spent hours in the library studying for your upcoming exam, and you need a change of scenery. It’s a beautiful day, with just the right temperature for basking in the sun like a lizard (if you tend to run cold like I do). 

However, once you reach the area, you’re faced with a dilemma: where do you sit?

There are so many spots to choose from in this expansive field. Will you be bold today and choose to stand out by sitting in the lone bright yellow Adirondack chair in the middle of the campus? Or will you lounge under the shade of the very climbable-looking trees, people-watching as your classmates go about their daily business? Or maybe you want to erect a barrier around you using multiple lounge chairs and defend your new territory like the SU Pirate you are. The possibilities are vast. And so are the perspectives.

When faced with the monotony of daily life, it can be easy to fall into the rhythm of going to class, going to work, eating, sleeping, studying, repeat. You find yourself in the same places at the same time of day, and soon your days blur into one another as you’re faced with the never-ending torrent of assignments and obligations that come with being a university student. So stop, just for a moment. Notice where you are, and notice that it’s different from where you’ve been before. Breathe in the fresh air, and appreciate everything that’s around you. You now have a different perspective.

But if you do this, make sure to bring a snack. The dining hall is close by, and when the wind wafts in your direction, you’re likely to get a bit peckish.

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” —Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Not many people know that Southwestern has its own secret garden. 

Over the years, the A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library has been added onto multiple times, giving the buildings a duality of old versus new. You can see this from the garden, as the modern portion of the library in which students spend most of their time is in direct contrast with the building that houses Special Collections and possesses the gothic charm characteristic of classic SU.

During the additions, the builders decided to incorporate a small courtyard in the center of the buildings where the old meets the new. The area remained empty for a short while until it became a passion project of Director of Library Resources Amy Anderson, and based on the roughly two-decade-long history of this quaint area, it is obvious that some unseen force wanted it to thrive.

When you enter the courtyard, the first thing you’ll notice is the massive fruit trees, and if you’re there during the right season, you’ll definitely notice the dozens, possibly hundreds, of ripe tangerines. According to Anderson, tangerine trees aren’t known for being the most long living, so it’s a surprise that this one is still kicking. There is also a volunteer tallow tree (volunteer trees are saplings that come up from seed all by themselves), just adding to the assumption that the area was, and is, meant to be.

You have many seats to choose from, but you decide to sit on the wooden bench shaded by the branches of a fruit tree. You now have a complete view of the garden.

Behind you is a floor-to-ceiling glass window, giving you a glimpse back into the modern world of the brightly lit library. But don’t turn around. Keep your eyes forward, forget about what’s behind you, and focus on what’s in front of you. Underneath your feet is uneven red cobblestone, and lining the sides of the courtyard is lush, fern-like foliage. The towering but undaunting buildings around you command deference. In another situation, you might feel claustrophobic, but the charm and serenity of the space ward away any negative feelings of this nature, and instead, you feel safely ensconced in the heart of these stalwart structures. You’re isolated but not lonely.

If you’re here on a particularly still day, when the wind isn’t blowing through the trees and everything is calm and quiet, the only thing you’ll hear is the occasional bird chirp. You can almost imagine that the world has stopped, and maybe even forget about it altogether, existing in a place disassociated from its chaotic nature. You breathe in the crisp air and exhale the burdens that come along with being, well, human. And if you try hard enough, you can stay here in this secret, sheltered place long enough to just exist, and nothing else. Long enough to just be. 

“There’s no place like home.” —Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

It seems common sense, but I’ve known many people, including myself, who just “suck it up” and “stick it out” when they’re not satisfied in the school, town, or community where they attend school. In the process of bettering ourselves and our lives, it becomes easy to justify being miserable here and now to be successful in the future. After all, discomfort is a necessary part of college in regards to the courses that challenge you and the maturation you go through as you transition from adolescence to adulthood. But forcing yourself to conform to a place or situation in which you find yourself feeling lost, disappointed, or frustrated isn’t worth it. You wouldn’t ask it of a friend or loved one, so why would you ask it of yourself? Life becomes easier when you actually enjoy the place you call home.