Adulting 101: Lessons Learned From My First Semester Living Off-Campus

Category Student Voices


Amy Chalán
Amy Chalán Class of '23
Authored on November 16, 2020


Since Harvard adapted to remote learning due to the pandemic, many students have found themselves living off-campus for the first time. First-year students and students who have been approved to return due to inadequate conditions for learning in their home environment are on campus for the fall term. Other students are either at home or using the housing stipend to find a home throughout this unique situation.  

This fall, I have lived in a town about 20 minutes from campus in Burlington, MA with my best friends. We were able to rent a house together for a few months and re-create our own campus here in Burlington. Although we were worried at first about being outside of Cambridge, living in the suburbs has been a great environment for us to continue our academic classes and to focus. Being close to campus is also a plus since we can still visit Harvard Square to get brunch and reminisce on our first year at Harvard.  

Living with my friends this fall has been a big change for me since I was used to residential dorm life at Harvard’s campus, but I’ve learned many lessons through this experience that I like to refer to as “adulting." In this blog post, I will share a few lessons I have picked up in my first few months of living on my own and will give you an idea of how students are adapting to off-campus living.  


My roommates and I when we first moved into our house in Burlington. Amy Chalan

Lesson #1: Learning to cook is hard, but can be really rewarding! 

The first responsibility that came as a shock was having to learn to cook. When I lived on campus, I was able to eat at dining halls and didn’t think that critically about my meals or my meal schedule. When we moved into our house, I realized I had absolutely zero cooking skills (besides making oatmeal and scrambled eggs) and had to adapt so I wouldn’t get tired of the two meals I knew how to prepare. In addition, since classes and Zoom meetings took up most of my day, I would forget to buy groceries and realize mid-way through a busy day that I needed to run out to Trader Joes. Thankfully, after many YouTube tutorials and FaceTime calls to my mom and grandparents, I learned how to improvise based on the produce available and spice up my meals! I also began to allocate time for cooking, which became therapeutic in a way, because I was able to listen to music, put my energy into an activity that wasn’t school work, and feel proud of my progress with each meal. Now, instead of fearing the stove and raw vegetables, I have grown to appreciate the joy of cooking and have even cooked special meals for my roommates!  

My friend and I cooked pasta, chicken, and vegetables for my roommates. Amy Chalan

Lesson #2: Make free time for your hobbies! 

As I alluded to previously, it has been easy to get lost in a day of classes, meetings with teachers, board meetings for extracurriculars, and homework. During first few weeks of classes, I was losing my excitement for school to the dreaded feeling of Zoom fatigue and exhaustion from screen-time. Fall in New England is very gorgeous and I realized, while working on an essay and looking out of my window, that I needed to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings. I began to make more time to go on walks between classes and woke up early to skateboard before class and get excited for the day. I explored our town on my bike and discovered a few spots, such as Burlington’s Senior Center, which has open parking lots where I could skate after class. Learning to budget my time so I could find joy in my hobbies while still being productive has helped me a lot and made the experience of remote learning much more enjoyable. 

A spot I like to skate on the weekends is called Eggs and is right on Boston’s waterfront!

A spot I like to skate on the weekends is called Eggs and is right on Boston’s waterfront! Amy Chalan


I also like to skate at Allston’s Skatepark, right by Harvard’s football stadium. I like to practice my flat ground tricks here! Amy Chalan

Lesson #3: Make time for the people around you! 

One day, I woke up and realized we had less than a month until we moved out of our house and returned home. This semester flew by and I realized I hadn’t fully appreciated the company of my roommates and how lucky I was to be with this goofy and supportive group. My roommates and I have made sure to make time for each other by having weekly movie nights, going to eat in Harvard Square every few weeks, and checking in on each other frequently throughout the day. Although I miss my friends who I only see through Zoom, I am really grateful for the people I lived with this semester and glad we all made an effort to enjoy the time we have together.  

My roommates and I on a rooftop in Boston for Sunday brunch. Amy Chalan

I’ll end this blog post by recognizing that living off-campus is a privilege and is unique to current circumstances. At first, I was afraid of living outside of a residential dorm setting, on my own for the first time, but these last few months have taught me more about myself and helped me appreciate the good things amidst the chaos of 2020. Next month, I will be moving to Manhattan in New York City, NY while my current roommates will be staying in Boston. I will miss them so much but have learned so much from them and can’t wait for the adventures the next semester has in store!   

Amy Chalán Class of '23

Hi there! My name is Amy Chalán and I’m a junior in Leverett House. I’m concentrating in Social Studies with a secondary in Art, Film, & Visual Studies in the Film Production track! While I grew up in suburban New York, I was born in Ecuador and am a proud member of the Saraguro indigenous community.

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Amy Chalán