Sweet home… everywhere else

Mark Hammontree

It would take Daniel Burton five to seven days to drive from Tuscaloosa to the place he calls home.

Burton, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, is from Palmer, Alaska.

In fall 2012, the number of out-of-state students in the incoming freshman class surpassed the number of students from Alabama. Although this number is on the rise, some out-of-state students say visiting home during their time at the University is often a stressful and pricey undertaking.

“I go home for Christmas break, and that’s it,” Burton said. “It’s about 4,000 miles, so driving would take probably five to seven days, so I fly, and typically that takes about 17 hours altogether with about 10 and a half hours of flight time.”

According to the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, there were 10,569 undergraduate students enrolled for the 2013 spring semester from states other than Alabama, and there were 901 undergraduates from foreign countries.

Some of these students may have chosen to come to Alabama because it was farther from home than schools in their own states. However, some of these students experience the stresses and obstacles that come with traveling home during their time as students.

Burton said it can be stressful living so far from home.

“I don’t get to see my family very often, which can be hard,” he said. “But it’s not like I can’t hop on a plane anytime and go see them. It’s not like I’m completely isolated.”

Burton said staying close to home was not an option for him because the number of schools is limited.

“So, it didn’t really matter where I went. A plane was going to be involved in getting back home,” he said. “It’s a long way, but it would have been about the same no matter where I went.”

Katerina Peña, a junior from Bay City, Texas, majoring in advertising, said the 11-hour drive home is such a long undertaking, and the round-trip flight so expensive, that she rarely goes home other than for Christmas. She admits the initial appeal of being far from home can often conflict with the stresses of returning.

“I thought it was going to be a big benefit, but going home really just turned into a big hassle,” Peña said. “It got to the point that my dad didn’t even want me to fly home for Thanksgiving last year because the few days I would be home wouldn’t even be worth the $300-$400 cost of flying round trip.”

Like Peña, many out-of-state students, especially those living in the eastern U.S., will initially drive to school in their car so they can have a vehicle on campus and for local travel. To return home for holidays and breaks, these students fly back to save time, if sacrificing a bit of money.

“I do have a car here, but whenever I go home, I fly,” Brian McWilliams, a freshman from Wexford, Penn., majoring in biology, said.

Still, for McWilliams, Peña and other out-of-state students, it is economically and technically impractical to return home as often as someone from Birmingham, Ala., Huntsville, Ala., or Montgomery, Ala., could.

“The travel aspect is certainly not a bonus,” McWilliams said. “But it is certainly not something that outweighs the benefits of coming here.”

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