First-years test the waters of college freedom

Jens Krogstad

WEditor’s Note: This article introduces two of the students the Daily will follow through their first year of college. An article introducing the other students will appear in Friday’s Daily.

When K.C. Burke arrived on campus this fall, she was homesick and miserable. She missed her hometown of Menomonee Falls, Wis., and its tight-knit community that enjoys throwing neighborhood barbecue parties in the summer.

Sitting at the desk in her Centennial Hall room, surrounded by photos and knickknacks from home, Burke said she even considered transferring to a school closer to home.

“Within the first three weeks, I was ready to go home,” she said. “I guess I was so far away from home, and I’d never really been far away from home.”

She said her transition to college was tougher because she did not learn who her roommate would be until a couple weeks before school. The first call to her roommate was terrifying, she said.

“I was so scared (to call), but my mom was like, ‘Call her!’ “

Sitting on the top bunk, Burke’s roommate seemed less nervous.

“Yeah, I didn’t even know I had a roommate when you called!” she said.

During the first few weeks, Burke said, she would talk to her parents over the phone every night on her cell phone’s unlimited evening minutes.

Burke said the people she met at summer orientation are in many of the same classes, which has helped her adjust to college life.

She added that the boys on her floor also seem to really like her and her roommate – possibly because they let them use their television for video games.

Their room is the only one on the floor that has cable, and one of the guys down the hall has anointed it the “game room,” leaving his Nintendo 64 there for all to enjoy. Burke said the spontaneous visits don’t bother her.

“I like it,” she said. “People just stop by and say, ‘Hey, let’s play some Kart,’ ” referring to the racing game Mario Kart.

While she is beginning to adjust to college life, Burke said, school is more difficult than she expected.

“I didn’t think it would be this hard – you’re constantly trying to catch up,” she said.

Since she is already taking challenging civil engineering classes, she said, she’s just hoping to get a 3.0 grade point average for her first year.

But like most students, money is also a concern for Burke. She is paying for school by herself with loans. Because she is not working now, she said, she will also need to take out a private loan in the future.

“With two kids in college, my parents just can’t afford it,” she said.

For Burke, family is important, and this weekend will be the first without a visit from them.

She said her family is a lot closer, now that she and her brother are in college.

The move to college has also brought her closer to her brother, with whom she has daily online chats.

“I never knew he cared,” she said. “And he’s got his friends up here watching me too, so he’s got his spies!”

She said she also keeps in touch with her boyfriend back home over the Internet, and they call each other at least twice a week. He is a year younger than she is and still at home, but will come to visit this weekend.

“It’s kind of easier because I’m not out trying to meet guys (instead of studying),” she said. “But it’s hard staying in touch.”

Chris Dudzinski

Chris Dudzinski’s collegiate philosophy is as much about having fun as it is about studying.

“There’s really two parts of it – there’s the studying end and there’s the going out with your friends,” he said.

Usually, Dudzinski dedicates his days to studying and nights to hanging out – and said he goes out Thursday, Friday, Saturday and sometimes even Sunday nights, but last weekend he went to house parties on Friday and Saturday.

All in all, Dudzinski said, college is everything he expected it to be.

“I love it; I really like it here,” he said. “You’re always busy.”

Despite his schedule, he said, he’s managing to find time for a new job: donating plasma twice each week.

“It’s a lot of money for not doing anything,” he said.

If he saves enough plasma money, he might spend it on a massive tattoo he designed himself. He used his skills as an architecture student to design a dragon tattoo, which he’s coloring in as he gets the money. He has spent $1,200 so far.

Dudzinski also enjoys playing soccer, and before injuring his knee in high school, planned to play for an East Coast school.

As a freshman and sophomore at Cottage Grove High School, in Cottage Grove, Minn., he received All-Conference honors but tore the anterior cruciate ligament in each of his knees, one during his junior year and the other during his senior year. Dudzinski is still recovering.

“It was the worst pain ever; you can just hear your ligaments rip,” he said.

He hopes to rehabilitate to the point where he can play competitive soccer again, he said, but right now he is playing intramural soccer at the University.

“I’m lifting to get my legs strong again so I can turn and cut without tearing ligaments,” he said.

But for now, he will stay at the University studying architecture, donating plasma and working on his tattoo – with dreams of competitive soccer in his head.