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To stay or go: Off-campus students adopt town

By Staff | Feb 20, 2009

Student Frances Ashton works at Shaharazade’s tea room and lives in Shepherdstown. Photo by Samantha Zurbuch

By Samantha Zurbuch

Chronicle staff

“I did it because I wanted to be more independent from the university,” said Shepherd University senior art education major Amanda Wurster of why she chose to move off campus last year. Amanda went on to explain that she feels like living off campus is definitely a great learning experience, but one that comes with a lot of responsibility. She pointed out that she struggles at times with balancing classes, work and house duties.

Many Shepherd students have chosen to live in town rather than in campus housing; it often proves to be more challenging than expected. For many, it can end up being a lifestyle choice that keeps them in the area for much longer than the planned four years. There is a culture that has evolved around those who choose to be separated from the masses of college students by residing in town. While it can have many positive effects, it also poses the question of “How long is too long?”

We all know them, have seen them, or have even become them. They are the lost students. Shepherdstown is a nice place to be. It’s comfortable and friendly, the sort of place one might like to stick around a while. This is no news to students who end up tacking on year after year of their undergraduate degree, in hopes of making a smooth transition from student to legitimate townie. It’s not always a negative thing. It works out well for many, who settle down through finding their niche in the area or those who even choose to commute for a job so they can still call Shepherdstown home. However, for some, it can morph into a black hole full of wasted time and money.

Steve Sickman (Shepherd ’08) chose to continue living and working in Shepherdstown after graduation.

“I absolutely recommend moving off campus,” Sickman said. “If you stay on campus, you’re in your own microcosm.” He sees the opportunity of living in town while still attending school as an important transition period that offers much more real life experience. As far as sticking around town for too long, Sickman advised making a timetable to move away. He added that he understands why people end up staying in town, explaining “You get comfortable, your friends are here and it’s easy to stay here.”

Wurster agrees it’s easy for students to get sucked into the Shepherdstown scene, but doesn’t think that it’s necessarily the right choice for all. “It’s negative that people stay here. It’s easier to stay in town and work and continue that college life than to move on and get a real job,” she said.

Shepherd senior Alex Kerns has lived in a house in town since his sophomore year, with his brothers and friends. He and his twin Isaac Kerns have worked odd jobs throughout the area, including a lawn service and working summers as rafting guides at River Riders in Harpers Ferry. Alex said that he sees the off-campus culture as an “extremely positive thing.” Friendships are tested much more than they are when you’re living in the dorms since you aren’t living right beside everyone anymore, he added.

“It’s positive at first, paying bills and all, I like that about it,” said Frances Ashton about her experience as an off-campus student. Certain positives include hearing about more events and town being more open to you in general, she added. Ashton has lived in town since January 2008, and has worked at Shaharazade’s Exotic Tea Room since last March. Describing students and others working in downtown Shepherdstown she said “It’s a whole community; we’re all competitors. But there seems to be concern between everyone these days. You see a lot more of the hardships.”

She also spoke of how hard the closing of several downtown businesses has been, and how the J. Cooper Gallery closing really hit her hard because she had work for sale there. Ashton said that she also notices how at the end of the night you can often find workers from different establishments congregating together at bars in town, which shows you what a tight knit community Shepherdstown businesses really are.

Living away from campus is definitely a mixed bag for most students. More often than not, the positives outweigh the negatives, and it ends up being an incredibly valuable experience.

For students on a strict four year track and not looking to get distracted along the way, however, it might not be the most sensible choice. Students make up a large part of the workforce and renters in Shepherdstown, and few of them look to be leaving town anytime soon. Can you blame them?