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Apartment searching at Cornell in MAY (How I found my dream place)

After deciding not to study abroad, I figured I should look into moving into a new place that I liked more than my co-op. I didn’t look before because Von Cramm makes it easy to cancel a contract or only live there for one semester, but since I wasn’t studying abroad anymore, that advantage went away. Reasons for moving: complicated.

Apartment-hunting season already starts in full swing in October for Cornell students, so the prime pickings are often long gone before the housing lottery for dorm rooms in March even happens. I started to look at places at the beginning of May, and had no partner/s in crime (e.g., roommates), so this was an interesting search filled with basement apartments, apartments on steep slopes, and people that suddenly needed to find someone to take over their lease, but since I like my co-op a bit (cheap, good food, dorm-like atmosphere but tighter, decent location, big rooms), I could afford to be picky about stuff and wait to see if better options showed up. My criteria in no particular order was:

  • Affordable. Duh. My mom agreed to pay up to $8,000 (for reference, a Cornell double is $7,800 and a single is $8,820), and I’d pay any costs above this. So I wanted a place that was less than $800 a month, including everything. For those who’ve never searched for apartments before, the following extras may or may not be included in rent at different places: heat, electric, water, internet, cable, garbage fees, cleaning, laundry, parking. Only a few places fit in this price range or even got close, so I was constantly daydreaming about just tossing an extra thousand or two at my apartment budget. But in the end I already had a decent place to live as an alternative and couldn’t bring myself to sign such expensive leases.
  • No basement rooms!! I think I would die in already gloomy Ithaca. Even if the location was super close to classes. Some people are okay with this because they view their places as more like just storage/a place to crash, but not me. I wanted something homey, and was willing to walk slightly further in the cold for it.
  • Close to campus! And/or gym. And/or fun (Collegetown)? Or just less slope to climb. For those of you not at Cornell, we have this hill up to campus from West Campus called “The Slope”. Google image searches make the Slope look like a walk in the park, but it is a pain, and places that don’t involve walking up it everyday carry a price premium here in Ithaca.  Nevertheless, it’s hard, perhaps impossible, to avoid at least a little elevation change here at Cornell…One option was places that were far, but had a regular shuttle to campus, but that didn’t really appeal to me for social reasons. The tricky part for me personally was that Collegetown is the really close to the Engineering Quad, but further from the gym. Ugh, compromises. Or? (Will get to that later)
  • North campus versus West campus versus Collegetown. Generally, North < West < Collegetown in terms of price, for various reasons (mainly distance from classes, and maybe that it’s mostly freshman on North). My co-op is on West, so I saw no reason to go to North. Just not that desperate for a new place. North does have a better gym and bus services to be fair, and more activities go on up there (like ballroom dance classes).
  • No steep slopes. Certain streets in Ithaca, like Williams St, are super close to campus, but are super steep, maybe even downright dangerous in the winter. In particular when viewing a place on Williams, I remembered going home by walking down this street in the winter, and literally just sliding down the hill like a slow, clumsy ice skater. Yikes. I’m too clumsy to safely live like that!
  • Not too noisy. Yet another peril of Collegetown, despite the various advantages (close to restaurants and classes), is the noise. Certain parts of certain buildings are immune to all the late night partying in Collegetown, but others were not so great.
  • Bright, windows. I’m from California and natural light was a big deal for me. There were two places I viewed that had great windows facing west, and I fell in love right away regardless of price. On the other side, a place at Collegetown Court, although about as close to campus as you can get, directly faced another (tall) building. Hmm…
  • Good roommates. Or certain roommate situations. I won’t go into exactly what I thought of as a good roommate, but I will say learning that “the female tenants go out and drink a lot especially on the weekends” was a bit of a dealbreaker. Does “especially on the weekends” mean “sometimes on Thursday, Wednesday, or Tuesday”? I was afraid of finding out. It’s fine when there are people like that in my co-op of 33 people in a giant house, but in an apartment with 6 people I was more wary/paranoid. There are pseudo dorm-like places, like 221 Eddy St, where ~15 people have single rooms but share common areas, bathrooms, and kitchens which are professionally cleaned. I totally would have gone for this place if there weren’t only basement apartments left. =P
  • Size of rooms. Needed to fit my digital piano.

I didn’t start out with all this criteria or knowledge, but by looking at more and more places and neighborhoods I learned what was important to me and what to look out for in Ithaca. One thing I learned that might be useful for someone in a similar situation is that sublets (one person out of a group needs to find a replacement from themselves) may be flexible in price. One group I talked to said the first month of rent was already paid so I didn’t have to worry about it, even though they didn’t advertise that in their CraigsList post. CraigsList posters can be slightly forgetful (sometimes in good ways!) so if a post almost satisfies you in terms or price or whatever, just e-mail to get more information.

In the end I almost gave up because, well, that’s a lot of picky criteria for mid-May. And was I really sure I wanted to move out of Von Cramm? But then, Law of Attraction style (no I haven’t read The Secret), the perfect place appeared on CraigsList on May 14. One room in a house of 15 people where the common areas are professionally cleaned - a quiet part of the house, three big windows facing the woods, yellow paint (I really love that yellow paint), plenty of space for my digital piano, closer to the Engineering Quad *and* closer to the gym. I didn’t even realize that was possible. Being on the edge of West campus means I can conveniently eat at dining halls there (or at least go to the German dinners), eat dinner once in a while at my old co-op to hang out, especially with my close friend who will still live there, all while being closer to classes, gym, and people living in Collegetown. And most importantly, the price was right - cheaper than staying in a double in the dorms! I might even be able to find a summer subletter.

The only hitch is that the rest of the tenants are mostly graduate or doctoral students but for various reasons that might actually be a good thing, who knows. Grad students are still people! Except for my boyfriend, who is just dumb (and already graduated). ;) Happily ever after, my place starting next year - cute, bright, and homey:


The essay that landed me a spot in Google FUSE 2010, earning me a $5,000 scholarship

Tell us about an experience that inspired your interest in the computer science field, or a specific aspect of it. Any inspiration is fair game!

I spent the first 17 years of my life avoiding computer science. But a friend inspired my interest in it anyway. He is now avoiding me.

To be sure, I’ve always thought computers and programming languages were cool. I may not have known much, but what I saw seemed like magic, as lines of a mysterious foreign language transformed into something greater. But my older sister studied CS, and this was a big enough minus that I didn’t seriously consider the subject until the summer before college, when my friend, the guitarist, taught me Java.

It began with my plans to brush up on my questionable knowledge of programming. The guitarist immediately took up the task of teaching me the basics, in his way: “Say you had the class A subclass for Person for example would be a Warrior Princess. A Warrior Princess is a Person with a name and an age, but she also has a special attack, armor, and other things a normal Person doesn’t have. Ya know?”

And thus began my intro to computer science. Full of irreverent jokes and perhaps not yet “real” CS, my informal summer lessons sparked my interest enough that I took two CS courses the following fall. We even almost got to the real computer science. “I want to teach you about pointers,” the guitarist said once. “If you can understand pointers, then you can major in computer science.” The guitarist is fond of oversimplification and underestimates many challenges.

Challenges like the combination of distance, hesitation, doubt, and chance that tore us apart enough that the last thing I’ve heard from him is, “Anyways, please don’t try to contact me anymore. We’ve had our run together and it’s run its course. You have another running buddy now and I need to go find mine. Sorry. See ya.” The guitarist loves weird metaphors and turns of speech.

And I have found other people, other ideas to inspire me to run further, indeed to run head first into the world he introduced me to. The guitarist left my life, but I still remember my non-traditional intro to CS. And maybe someday, even if it takes the 17 years I took to find CS, he will remember me again. For now though, I’m just working on becoming a Warrior Princess of computing. After all, I’ve already passed the big test. I understand pointers.