By Nhoell Inthavong, City Year Seattle '16, '17
Something new. Something different. That’s what I wanted when I applied to City Year in October of 2014. I was born and raised in a small town in good ol’ North Carolina, but wanted to gain new experiences by serving somewhere completely unfamiliar to me. With that, I applied to the West Coast region.
About two weeks after my Skype interview, I got a phone call with the exciting news that I was accepted to serve with City Year Seattle! Right after finding out, I called my dad and as thrilled as he wanted to be, he was also sad that his little girl would be moving all the way across the country. I remember telling him, “It’ll be just one year, Dad.”
Living With Family vs. Living on Your Own
As weeks went by and the news started to settle in, my dad and I talked and remembered we had family who lived in Washington. Although I had only met them a few times, my dad became less worried knowing there would be some support for me in Washington. We contacted them and they were so kind and quick to offer their place for me to stay with them.
I thought about the money I could save and the support I would have by living with family. In the back of my mind though, I knew I wanted to be more independent. I knew I wanted the "full experience" of living with other City Year AmeriCorps members and wanted to have the freedom of exploring Seattle on my own and with new friends.
Once I made up my mind not to live with family, it was really about saving money. In March, I picked up a job as a server, in addition to my two on-campus jobs. Once I graduated in May, I was working as a server and also an Adult ESL teacher at a nonprofit organization that I had interned with previously. This allowed me to save up for my move to Seattle.
Hunting for Roommates
In May, I started looking for roommates. I scoped Facebook and everyone in the City Year confirmed corps group for prospective roommates. Many of the AmeriCorps members had already committed to living with other people. But I booked my ticket to Seattle for the end of July. I knew things would work out somehow.
To make a long story short, everything worked out! I found three other City Year AmeriCorps members to live with through the Facebook group. One of them took the lead in finding an apartment for us. We sent each other places we would find online and have a four-way phone call to talk about locations, rent, and other concerns we had. We settled on a four-bedroom apartment in West Seattle. When the place was officially ours, all I had to do was save my money and fly to Seattle.
Moving Across the Country
When I flew into Seattle, a family member picked me up and I stayed with them for the night before I moved into my apartment. Every City Year experience and housing experience is unique, but there are a few things that that may be helpful for those who are packing up their bags and flying cross-country:
- Pack very little. I went onto my flight with one checked bag, one carry-on, and one personal item. I really didn’t NEED that much. I mainly packed season-appropriate clothes and necessities like toiletries and electronics. Winter clothes, stuffed animals, picture frames and other items could wait until my dad mailed them me.
- Buy the bigger things later. I bought a shelf and bed frame when I was in Seattle. Buying those things online is even better, especially when you only have the bus to rely on for transportation. Those big things arrive at your doorstep. What’s even better is finding free furniture. Don’t be afraid to call up a friend to help pick up that free desk on the side of the street.
- Practice self-discipline. Living the stipend life, I’m more aware of my spending limits. Budgeting is essential so you can spend your money responsibly. Each month, I know I need to pay for essentials–rent, internet, phone, etc. From there, I estimate how much I want to spend and how much I want to save. There are some things you don’t need to be spending money on so frequently. Personally, I’ve had to ask myself, “do I really need another order of French fries this week?” Being more mindful in my spending, I’ve saved up to splurge on weekend road trips with friends and treated myself to a massage on my birthday for some self-care. Those little spending and saving habits truly make a difference!
Overall, I’m glad I chose to take the more independent route and live with other City Year AmeriCorps members. It’s allowed me to learn and explore more. Wherever you are serving during your City Year, know that it’s you who determines what your year becomes.