Tulane transplants' two-toned tales

Charlottesville is, geographically, far from New Orleans, and the University provides a far different atmosphere from Tulane University.

So when the University opened its arms to those who were forced to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina, many Tulane students found themselves in a very unfamiliar environment.

Despite the fact that Tulane has reopened its doors and most students have returned to the same dorms they were forced to leave only a few hours after moving in, there are some who didn't go back to New Orleans.

Those, such as second-year College student Grace Allstrom, decided they liked being at the University so much that they transferred here permanently.

"I had considered transferring from Tulane anyway -- there were a lot of things I didn't like about it," Allstrom said. "But then the hurricane came and the choice was taken out of my hands -- I liked it here a lot more than I thought I would."

When originally choosing where to go to college, Allstrom had decided she didn't want to go anywhere in-state. She was seeking somewhere new and far from home, and Tulane fit the part quite nicely. Unfortunately for her, that was one of the few expectations that Tulane actually lived up to in her mind.

"I did not go to a single class [at Tulane] in which everyone was sober," Allstrom said. "Every class I went to, there was at least one person who was noticeably drunk."

While she attributes this to Tulane's prime party location of New Orleans, Allstrom said she was disappointed in that she was paying a lot of money to attend a private institution to benefit from the academics, not the late-night revelries.

Allstrom also mentioned she thought the University was a better match to her areas of academic interest: Spanish and anthropology.

"I just felt that it would be a better choice to stay here," Allstrom said. "I'm closer to home, I'm closer to my friends and U.Va. is a much better school."

After deciding that the University was the place for her, Allstrom encountered barriers to transferring permanently.

"At first, they were not even going to allow me to apply to transfer, which I was quite upset about," she said.

Allstrom was eventually allowed to do so, but did so without the benefit of any special considerations given on account of her "visiting student" status. But Allstrom said she was happy to just be able to apply.

While Allstrom held a positive opinion of the University, largely based on her experiences around Grounds, there were some who did not enjoy their time at the University as much.

"I'm not sure what I was expecting [of the University], but I don't think that this was it," Tulane sophomore Austin Blakeslee said.

For Blakeslee, his choice of colleges had been between Tulane and the University, but ultimately, Tulane won out. Coming to the University for a semester, Blakeslee realized he made the right decision to begin with.

"People at Tulane are just more relaxed," Blakeslee said. "People there study, but academics are a bigger focus at U.Va."

Blakeslee said he enjoyed some of his classes, but that others were a waste of his time. He also noted the University fosters a competitive academic environment in certain areas much different from what he was used to.

"I feel like it's a lot more cutthroat," Blakeslee said. "I never got that sense at Tulane -- that people are going to stab you in the kidneys if you get a better grade than them."

One of the main differences between the two schools that both Allstrom and Blakeslee mentioned was that the University's Grounds is much larger than Tulane's campus.

"I was like, 'What, I have to ride a bus to class? I haven't done that since middle school,'" Allstrom said.

Blakeslee, who was comfortable with Tulane's undergraduate population of around 7,000, found the University's 13,000 in comparison to be overwhelming.

"Tulane's not a small school, but it feels like a small school," Blakeslee said. "Being at U.Va. made me realize how important size can be in your choice of schools."

While both Allstrom and Blakeslee noticed that University students seemed concerned for their well-being upon arriving in Charlottesville, Blakeslee didn't find students to be particularly friendly, save the occasional courtesy.

"I got the sense that you have to have your group there," Blakeslee said. "I don't want to use the word 'clique,' but that is the sense that I got -- you have your groups of friends and you hang out with them and you don't really go outside your circle. For us coming in, it was hard to break into that."

Allstrom agreed that circles of friends appeared to be prominent around Grounds, but she managed to find a group of students whose lifestyles are similar to her own.

"It does seem like there are lots of cliques and there's lots of sorority/fraternity stuff, which is not my scene," Allstrom said. "But really, it's the same at Tulane, and I think I've found a pretty good group of people [here] who aren't like that."

Though Allstrom didn't cite any specific experiences that enhanced her time on Grounds, Blakeslee did mention an experience that contributed to his unfavorable view of the University -- having his wallet stolen.

"The way they enforce the honor code so rigorously, if people really followed it, you wouldn't have to shove it down their throats all the time," Blakeslee said. "Tulane has an honor code, but they don't shove it down our throats. ... They talk up the honor code [at the University] so much and it's not the sense I actually got from being there."

Blakeslee said he was looking forward to returning to Tulane, where he expected things to be quite different because of the hurricane. He mentioned that Tulane has even established a community service requirement for all students to help the city get back on its feet.

The University "had its pluses and minuses and, in the end, it wasn't for me," Blakeslee said. "I wonder how much my experience at U.Va. was colored by being at Tulane and comparing the two. Like, would I have liked U.Va. if I had gone there first? And I think I would have."

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