New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Beyond books and bedding: The comfort objects students bring to college

College is a period of uncharted change. Here’s what five students brought to school to help them stay grounded through it all.

Deciding what to bring to college is a unique and personal process. After all, our belongings tell our story. They can reflect our interests, remind us of our loved ones, even serve as timestamps. They remind us of our past and help us envision our future. In college, these objects comfort us, acting as central fixtures in the spaces we call our temporary homes. 

Sometimes, the items we bring seem superfluous. If I had to count how many times my mom asked me, “Do you really need that?” while I was packing for school, I easily would have lost track after at least 10. Yet, objects that seem to lack a definite purpose still find themselves in our suitcases, reassuring us in the wake of what may be an otherwise volatile period in our lives. 

At NYU, students’ belongings can help make their new spaces really feel like home.

Birthday candles

Pink, green, yellow, blue and orange candles placed side by side to form the letters “H.B.D.” with hearts on each side.
Rachel Ahn’s birthday candle. (Alisha Goel for WSN)

GLS sophomore Rachel Ahn knew she wanted to throw her friend an unforgettable birthday bash, and over the summer, while walking down the streets of Seoul, she struck gold. Ahn found what she describes as the most perfectly aesthetic birthday candles, hidden in a small bakery in the city’s Sangsu-dong neighborhood.

Initially brought to New York for her friend’s party in December, the candles have adopted a newfound significance for Ahn. Stored in a desk drawer, the candles add an unmistakable feeling of excitement to her dorm.

“Whenever I’m looking for stuff, like a pen or command hooks, and I see that, I get excited, or like ‘Oh, I can’t wait, something to look forward to,’” Ahn said.

For Ahn, the candles also spark a less tangible, yet ongoing celebration — that of pride in her home country, Korea. Ahn classifies the candles under what she and her friends affectionately refer to as “pretty trash,” items unique to Korea that are cheap in cost but vibrant and thoughtful in design.

“When I look at it, it kind of reminds me of Korea,” Ahn said. “It reminds me of the streets with … the small cafes.” 

Eliciting both unwavering excitement for a future birthday as well as memories from home, the candles have become one of Ahn’s most valued possessions this semester. 

A hand-sewn bag

A red bag rests on a white chair.
Jin Vathanakul’s grandmother’s hand-sewn bag. (Matthew Petres for WSN)

CAS senior Jin Vathanakul’s grandmother is somewhat of a creative. This past summer, Vathanakul, who’s originally from Thailand, didn’t have to search far when looking to upgrade her wardrobe. Her grandmother knitted her a unique handbag as a sending-off present — a project that took the whole summer to complete. 

“She’s always doing something arts and crafts related activities; she will be painting plates and cups, like mugs, or she’ll be knitting, like making us baskets,” Vathanakul said. “It really reminds me of her. It’s really inspirational, actually, how creative she is.”

Here, in her New York City apartment, the bag has made its way to the front of Vathanakul’s closet. 

“I feel like it’s really special because it’s kind of a mix of traditional Thai fashion, but it’s also modern,” Vathanakul said.

Vathanakul joked that despite her grandmother’s age, she keeps up with the trends and takes inspiration from items she sees on Pinterest. A dynamic accessory, the bag has superseded its inherent purpose, instead carrying the creativity and expression of her grandmother. 

“I’m really close with my family,” Vathanakul said. “It’s comforting in a way to have a piece of her here with me.” 

Now a core component of Vathanakul’s style and holding immense sentimental value, the bag has established itself as a college mainstay.

A wooden elephant

A hand holding a carved wooden elephant in its palm.
Diya Bhaskar’s wooden elephant. (Jin Li for WSN)

For CAS first-year Diya Bhaskar, taking a piece of her Florida home to college was crucial. Enter: a miniature wooden elephant. 

Bhaskar’s house is filled with depictions of elephants, a testament to her mother’s appreciation for the animal. In her dorm room, she keeps the wooden elephant in plain view on her desk as a constant reminder of the space she’s always been most fond of.

“I always felt comfortable at my home,” Bhaskar said. “I never felt tied down to anything. That was the place I was happiest.”

The wooden elephant in her dorm room is part of a larger set purchased in India. She keeps the smaller piece herself, while her mom holds onto the larger one back in Florida.

“It reminds me of my mom, because me and my mom are very close and especially being really far away from her, it’s kind of weird not seeing her every day,” Bhaskar said.

Now, Bhaskar has a reminder of both home and her mother here at NYU that lends reassurance throughout the ups and downs of her first year.

Postcards upon postcards

A person sitting in front of a wall decorated with photos and drawings.
Varya Rodionova’s postcards. (Alisha Goel for WSN)

CAS junior Varya Rodionova has a passion for travel. Naturally, she’s taken advantage of NYU’s vast study abroad program. Scattered across the walls of Rodionova’s apartment bedroom is an endless collection of postcards and photos from the many places she’s been.

During her first year at NYU Florence, she traveled to places like Sevilla, Spain and Palermo, Italy during her breaks. As a sophomore, she spent her fall semester in Buenos Aires before traveling to Brazil. This past summer, she studied in South Africa. 

“I can get stressed when I’m here, or wherever I am, but then I look at a postcard of somewhere in Brazil … I look and I’m like ‘Oh my god, I was actually there,’” Rodionova said.

She intends to study abroad more in the coming semesters, but while here in New York Rodionova wanted to hold onto the nostalgia of her travel experiences. Each postcard represents a distinct moment in her ever-changing life.

“When I look at that postcard or a postcard of my friends when we were going out in Florence somewhere, it’s just such happy times,” she said.

Having been the hallmark of her college experience, these fond memories surround Rodionova while back in New York awaiting her next adventure.

A stuffed dog

Fino, with shoulder length light pink hair and black glasses, smiles while holding their stuffed toy, a small dalmatian with a rose in its mouth. They are sitting in a corner of their dorm with a poster, plants and window blinds in the background.
Kieran Fino and his stuffed dog. (Trish Sachdev for WSN)

Would you bring your dog to college if you could? For Gallatin senior Kieran Fino, the answer would be a resounding “Yes.” However, given dorm restrictions on pets, he settled for the next best thing — a stuffed dalmatian to remind him of his dog, Stevie.

“I wanted something that would remind me of her, so I bought the stuffed animal when I first started college to keep with me so I could bring her everywhere,” Fino said. 

Here at NYU, Fino finds himself inspired by Stevie, despite the dog remaining home in New Jersey. Before Fino’s family adopted her, Stevie was a rescue dog. 

“She’s a symbol of strength to me — that this little dog can go through so much, and yet be so happy,” he said.

Now in his last year of college, Fino still leans on the stuffed dog to fill the void Stevie left. He keeps the stuffed animal close on his bedside, a plush reminder of home.

“When I get really tired, because Stevie usually stays with me, I keep the dog with me, so that reminds me of home,” Fino said.

Having accompanied him throughout college, the stuffed dog has helped bridge the gap between Fino and his beloved friend, transporting feelings of home to his dorm room.

Going away for college, be it on a three-hour drive or a three-hour flight, means redefining what — and where — home is for you. Sometimes, it is in the people around you, but it can also be in the items you bring with you each step of the way. As you settle into your dorm or apartment this year, consider the comfort objects you brought with you, and consider giving them a proper space. Or, if you didn’t bring any special item, maybe seek one out and transport the joy of your favorite people, places and memories into this new place you call home.

Contact Michael Lando at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Alisha Goel, Multimedia Editor
Alisha Goel (she/her) is a junior majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Integrated Design and Media. When she is not at WSN, she is stressing out on code, reading a long book, watching a movie at AMC with one of the other multimedia editors or creating mildly disturbing art with her photography. You can find her at @03alisha17 on Instagram or email her at [email protected].
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  • M

    Mary WadeOct 21, 2023 at 3:48 am

    Wonderful story and great photos!