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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

From Cafe Mac to Cooking: Life on and off campus

For many Macalester sophomores who are thinking about moving off-campus, the next few months will be crucial in securing housing for junior year. In the scramble to contact landlords, tour apartments and sign leases, people may forget what they like about living on-campus, as well as what they might gain by moving off-campus. The Mac Weekly sat down with two seniors, Nita Chai and Joseph (Vandy) Sengeh, to get their perspectives on the transition.

Finding off-campus housing
Both Chai and Sengeh discovered their off-campus housing through word of mouth. A friend of a friend lived in the apartment Chai lives in now. Situated a block from campus, Chai likes the convenience. She lives in a two-bedroom unit with the same roommate she’s had since sophomore year. “Neither of us wanted to live with a lot of people,” Chai said.
Sengeh found housing through a friend who lived near Janet Wallace. He liked the house’s proximity to campus and low rent. When his friend graduated at the end of Sengeh’s sophomore year, Sengeh took his place. He signed the lease without knowing who his housemate would be, but felt confident he could adjust and get along with anyone. Sengeh and his roommate live in the basement; the owners – a couple in their seventies – live above them. Due to the shared spaces and close quarters, the place is kept tidy and Sengeh avoids hosting loud parties. About once a month, he and his roommate eat dinner with the couple. Sengeh sees them more as parental figures than as landlords; they are interested in getting to know him and sharing experiences about their own college days.

Social life
For Sengeh, the most striking difference he found about moving off-campus was the loss of community. In the dorms, he often ran into people and joined them for events. He studied in the lounge and chatted with people walking past. Since moving off-campus, Sengeh has been more deliberate about getting involved in the Macalester community. Meeting up with friends has to be intentional. Since his landlords live above him, he often socializes elsewhere and uses his house as a quiet place to relax. He said he enjoys the freedom of studying whenever he wants: “At home, I can wake up at four a.m. and study and not feel guilty.” His roommate in Dupre and 30 Mac was a light sleeper, so Sengeh avoided studying late in the room.

Chai has not experienced a change in her social life since moving off-campus. She lives in an apartment a block from campus and is often on-campus for activities. She tries to be intentional about her apartment; she uses her bed for sleeping and her kitchen for eating. When she comes home, she likes to focus on keeping the place in order. “I don’t use it for a study space,” said Chai. “I didn’t want to buy a desk when the library is across the street.”

Eating habits
Both Sengeh and Chai feel the absence of Café Mac. While living on-campus, Chai spent more time at meals because Café Mac made it easy to run into friends and talk. For her, living off-campus means eating on-the-go. When rushed, she sometimes eats standing up in the kitchen. Chai misses the brunches at Café Mac. Sengeh also loved eating breakfasts in Café Mac. Now he eats cereal or sometimes skips breakfast altogether, but comes home for lunch. On Sundays, Sengeh wakes up around six a.m. to cook before going to church. Cooking takes between forty minutes and two and half hours, depending on the dish, and it lasts him until Thursday or so. About five times per week, he calls some of his first-year friends and asks them to swipe him into Café Mac for dinner.

Both seniors miss the ease of Café Mac. Chai remarked on the range of vegetables offered. “[Living off-campus], you have to be more intentional about the food you buy,” she said. “Café Mac has all these food options presented to you.” She finds cooking for one person challenging and praises initiatives like NÜDL, which facilitate meal-sharing and social connections for students living off-campus.

Sengeh remarked on the energy required to think about and prepare meals. “It’s a lot of work to feed myself,” he said. Living off-campus has made him appreciate his mom and other family members that cook back home. He has a lot of respect for Café Mac workers as well.

Adult life
Since turning 21, Chai has enjoyed happy hours at the Groveland Tap. She likes the availability of this social activity to catch up with friends. As far as logistical concerns associated with adulthood, she finds that living in an apartment instead of a dorm means keeping track of more items, such as chores and expenses. Her rent is automatically withdrawn, which helps relieve some of the stress of paying bills.

Sengeh finds the transition of paying bills and keeping track of expenses a bit challenging. At the same time, he considers the experience valuable and encourages everyone to give off-campus living a try. “Everyone should experience how to sustain themselves before going into the real world,” said Sengeh.

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