Should I stay or should I go?      

Choosing whether to stay at home or live away for university is arguably one of the biggest decisions your child will have to make regarding post-secondary education – it will undoubtedly shape his or her experience. Writers Derek Abma and Tracey Tong take a look back at the pros and cons of their own experiences.

The year was 1992. Grunge music was taking over the charts. The National Hockey League had just added two more teams, after adding one a year earlier. I was 19 years old and starting at Carleton University, which was essentially my bridge from adolescence to adulthood.

These shifts in reality, along with many others, were not all bad, mind you. Pearl Jam and Soundgarden remain among my favourite bands to this day. One of those new NHL teams were the Ottawa Senators, which, despite what to see in the news these days, have been a great asset to this city. And I could now walk into any licensed establishment in Ontario and order a beer legally.

With all this change around me, staying at home was a welcome element of stability as I started university. For one thing, rent tends to be the biggest single expense for anyone going away to school, so I was able to keep that item off the balance sheet.

There were other benefits as well. With the teenage phase of my life winding down, I was actually starting to get along with my parents again. So it was nice to have them around – and to have people cooking for me.

And though I made new friends in university, staying in Ottawa helped me maintain contact with high school chums. And remember, this was pre-Facebook, so that wasn’t always easy, especially if you left town.

Also, I was able keep my part-time job at the Lincoln Heights Woolco, which would soon become a Walmart (adding to all the other changes happening around this time).

I partied a lot then, but perhaps not as recklessly as would have been the case if I was living away from home. Who knows? Maybe this structure in my life made a difference in me making it as far as graduation.

Admittedly, I grew up rather sheltered.

At 18, I’d never held a part-time job, gone on a date, or even intentionally broken my curfew of 11 p.m. I didn’t even know how to do laundry. (In hindsight, as a result of my parents’ adamance that any free time I had should be devoted to studies or music, I was somewhat naïve in the ways of the world.)

When I was accepted to my first-choice program – journalism at Ryerson University – just a short 45-minute commute away from our home in Burlington, my parents asked if I wanted to move to Toronto instead. In an equally surprising move, I jumped at the opportunity.

It was 1999, and living away from home for the first time taught me so much more than I learned in my classes that year. Through trial and error (mostly error), I learned that if I didn’t go to bed early enough, I’d be wrecked for all else the next day; to sit down and work was hard when nobody was wagging a finger at me; and that if you put too much soap in the washing machine, it will come pouring out into the common area.

I also learned some tough life lessons. I had my first boyfriend, and by Christmas that year, my first heartbreak. I discovered that not all people were good – when I left my room unlocked and had valuables stolen, I learned to take better care of my possessions. Conversely, when the sad news came that my grandfather had died, I learned that friends could be like family, and I leaned on those people in the absence of my kin.

That summer, I came home wiser, more independent, and a tad chubbier (on residence’s unlimited meal plan, I’d gained the infamous Freshman 15). I had changed for the better and for the worse, and was thrilled to enjoy the company of my parents and younger brother for four months. After all, newfound independence is lovely, but there’s nothing like the warm company of family.