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Before the pandemic slowed travel across the globe to a race a snail could win. Before the measurement of “6 feet” became used as a moniker for social distancing on top of its already common use to give us an idea of how far below the surface of the Earth death might take us. Before Zoom was something my mother ever believed she could figure out and use to talk to her family spread across the country at the same time. Before all of what has become so intimate to our daily lives over this past year, I was a commuter student with Presidio Graduate School and it was one of the best experiences I have ever had.

Who is a commuter student?

A commuter student is someone who lives outside of the Bay Area ranging from Sacramento, where some students chose to live and wake up before the sun to drive the couple hours to class and then return home to be with loved ones in the evening, to as far as Romania, where a Presidio alum would make the global trek to attend classes in person. While I did not have to travel as far as another country, I did travel from the heart of country…music that is…Nashville, TN. Over the past almost two years that I have been at Presidio I have been asked to share this experience with many prospective students who do not wish to leave their homes but still wish to obtain a degree from Presidio Graduate School.

Why did I choose to be a commuter?

First, I wasn’t ready to leave Nashville. At the time, I had a serious relationship, a full-time, thriving vintage clothing business, and a very supportive community of friends. While I have lived in several other states, Nashville had been my home base for 15 years and felt like a comfortable space to tackle grad school. Second, let’s be real, the Bay Area is, um…expensive. Not just rent, but the overall cost of living was about three times higher than my cost of living in Nashville. I knew that I would be choosing to take on student loans to pay for my higher education, which meant that one strategy I could use to cope with this burdensome debt was to keep my cost of living lower. Personally, I think education should be free, but this is the current state of affairs in higher education, right or wrong.

What about the impact of flying?

This is a question that gets tossed my way and sometimes aggressively pitched at me. Yes, air travel is harmful to the environment. So why do I fly? To reduce the impact, Presidio alumna, former Presidio board member and Vice President at Natural Capital Partners (NCP) Saskia Feast coordinated a partnership between NCP and PGS that will result in the offsetting of 100% of the carbon emissions from school-related flight travel. Moreover, this is a worthy trip to take. The intention of my travel is to gain knowledge, experience, and a network that will empower me to do everything I can to make the world a place that using regenerative practices, including long-distance travel (through policy work with my MPA or through advising on cleantech with my MBA since I’m a Dual Degree student). Sometimes our options as environmentally-minded folk are limited in doing the work we wish to do, and one of my limits is flying. One big benefit to flying though: you’re locked in a seat with very few distractions (like ANYTHING in my house will distract me) and it’s the perfect time to knock out hours of required class reading. Trust me, being on a plane became my academic secret weapon for success.

Commuting as self-care

For me, the ability to travel to a different city, with an entirely different climate, persona, food scene, community, etc. became an act of self-care. The change of scenery invigorated my mind, amped up my levels of creativity, offered learning opportunities in the exchange of ideas outside of my local bubble (and this exchange was happening in and out of the Presidio community). I also was able to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, and the warmer climate in the winter greatly boosted my overall mood. On top of this, the Presidio Graduate School community is so much fun to hang out with and I can’t wait until we can be less than a Zoom call and six feet away from each other again. I have memories I will cherish until the day I’m six feet under (in a compostable casket).

Community involvement!

The Presidio Graduate School community is incredibly supportive of commuter students. Pre-pandemic, our commuters encompassed a little less than 50% of the student population. Bay Area students regularly welcomed commuters into their homes, offering guest rooms if they had them, or even a couch to those who were seeking a free place to stay. It became common practice to have an exchange economy in this situation with commuter students staying at host students’ houses to offer to clean the home, or to babysit kids (allowing parents to have a much deserved date or self-care time). Local students also show commuters all the best spots in the Bay from restaurants to ice skating rinks. Some local students who don’t want to commute will also go in on a shared hotel room or AirBnB with commuters. I used to share a hotel room with a local student who found it far less stressful to simply walk to class. All of these experiences were fantastic for relationship building and creating unforgettable experiences!

If you’re on the fence about commuting, I get it, but I don’t think you’ll regret it. Embrace your sense of adventure and take on the monthly trips to school with curiosity and excitement. It’s not often in life we’re presented with opportunities like a hybrid graduate program offers. With approximately 50% of our current students living outside of the Bay Area (I’m currently on a mountain in West Virginia!) commuting to Presidio creates a community that is engaged in relevant work across the country that we can all learn from. Presidio Graduate School is a think-outside-of-the-box program, so why not travel outside of the box as well? If you’re curious to hear more please feel free to ask anyone on the Admissions team to set up a 1:1 call with me!

Ready to join talented students like Heather and become a Presidian? There’s no better time than now to make a change—for yourself and for the world. Learn more about our MBAMPADual Degree, and Certificate programs, and then start a conversation with us!

About the Author / Heather Openshaw

As the owner of a long-standing vintage clothing business, Heather has years of experience in customer service. She formerly worked with the City of Nashville’s Public Works Waste Reduction Department to develop a county-wide recycling audit program. She is currently a dual MBA/MPA candidate at Presidio Graduate School with a focus on accessible and sustainable lifestyle design. She lives in Davis, WV.

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