Tales from 4 South – a look back at a sense of community

Last night while I was lying awake I thought about my first two years of college. When I went to University of Illinois, I was the only one from my high school. Out of my graduating class of 150, about 40 were headed to Michigan, 18 to Michigan State, and everyone else was totally spread out. I applied to leave in a living-learning community, Allen Hall/Unit One, the artsy one, just a couple of blocks away from the school of music.

I sent in my application pretty late and I was placed on the fourth floor in the south end (aka 4 south). I absolutely loved my floor. It was relatively quiet, no one wanted to walk up four flights of stairs, and it truly had a sense of community. Most people propped their doors open. I remember in particular the triad room and the quad room had the nicest ladies on the floor.

I also remember the soundtrack of the radio always playing in the communal bathroom, it seemed like Lady Gaga’s “Let’s Dance” and Miley Cyrus’ “See you again,” were always on repeat. 

You were never alone. There was always someone to talk to, you generally saw someone in the bathroom or in the hall. There was always someone to eat with. Most of my freshman and sophomore years was spent eating lunch with guys who I tried to date…that didn’t end up going too well. 

Allen Hall also had the wonderful tradition of a monthly coffeehouse. Once a month people signed up and performed anything, rants, tirades, slam poetry, a reenactment of Peaches’ “F!@# the Pain Away,” and I even performed the “Sara Goodman experience” a couple of times. Those nights were the best nights, and I just had to go downstairs to take part.

One of the hardest things about Peace Corps is the sense of isolation. In my village I am surrounded by people, but inside my house and courtyard I’m alone. I’m cooking for one. It’s just me and my Cat (and kittens if she’s been getting busy). It’s not like a bunch of people in a dorm all taking classes and doing the same thing that can relate to each other. I’m not sure how much the villagers can relate to me. Sure, I can speak French and converse in Moore, but it’s not like we’re all a bunch of college freshmen/sophomores in the college experience.

PCV life outside of village also doesn’t have the same sense community. Most of the time in our transit house people are TV zombies glued to their computer screens playing stuff off their hard drive. Everyone is really stressed out all the time and finds their own ways to cope and self-medicate. We’re all volunteers, but it’s still not the same feeling as the 4th floor of Allen Hall.

There’s also the element of personalization. All the dorm rooms are the same and it was awesome seeing how everyone made it their own. Everyone got a little piece of the same communal space. It’s not the same in village. You have your own house and you can decorate it, but it’s not like the tapestry-filled, blinking christmas lights, fun curtains, exciting bedding of a dorm room.

I feel like I have integrated myself effectively among volunteers and my community, but it’s certainly different than college. PC may be an extension of the college experience for some, but for me it only seems that way at volunteer house parties and staying in the transit house.

Oh, to be at a Coffeehouse, sit in the dining hall, and mooch off the free cable again.

To the 4th Floor of Allen Hall, I salute you.


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