As Sydney Kalonihea reluctantly climbed into the passenger seat of her beloved Toyota beside her father, she couldn’t help wondering about her future life 386 miles away, and the Milwaukee life that she was leaving behind. The family minivan, driven by her mother, was leading the way to Evansville, Indiana, stuffed to the brim with every college essential except Sydney’s two younger brothers and their dog, Fia. As the mighty waters of Lake Michigan slowly disappeared from the rearview, reality started to sink in. It would be months before she spent a summer night beside a beach bonfire with her boyfriend, swimming past where her feet could touch, or watching her dog’s sandy paws chase after a tennis ball. The opportunity to play Division I softball had been a dream of hers since she was a little girl, and since then, countless weekends on the dirt, thousands of sweaty hours in the gym, a hundred sacrifices, and a couple trophies, all spelled out one word: prepared. But college was so much more than softball, and it would take stepping up to the plate to find out if she was ready.
Junior Abby Kellams makes the twenty-minute commute from her family farmhouse on the West side to the University of Evansville each day in her Ford, blasting One Direction the whole way. The 18-year-old transferred with junior credits thanks to the direct admission program offered at her previous community college down the road, Ivy Tech, in hopes of earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and working towards becoming a Child Specialist. Her love of kids shines through her fitting career choice; Kellams spends almost twenty hours per week as an after-school care teacher and is always on call as a babysitter to two girls under three. Her caring and attentive personality makes her a warm and comfortable presence for children, especially those needing support and attention.
The two young women live completely different lives, and yet they both wound up in a small town on the Ohio River. While choosing UE was a very practical decision for Kellams, Kalonihea had other factors in mind.
“I chose UE because of the opportunity that was presented to me to play softball at the DI collegiate level, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. After receiving an offer, UE stood out to me over other schools I was choosing between because of the small class sizes and ability to build close relationships with my professors, new residence hall, weather, downtown Evansville, and distance from home.”
With softball season in full swing, Kalonihea’s alarm goes off almost every morning at approximately 7 am. She’ll throw on the team practice jersey of the day, put her hair in a braid, eat a Chobani flip, and use the three-minute walk from her dorm to the weight room to call her boyfriend. Depending on the day, she’ll go the cafeteria for breakfast with a teammate, spend some time in class, and go to physical therapy or the athletic training room until practice starts at 3 p.m. When practice ends at 6 p.m., she’ll go back to the cafeteria for dinner, take a shower, go to tutoring, do some group or solo studying, and maybe find some time to FaceTime her boyfriend at 11 p.m. before getting up and doing it all over again the next day. Kalonihea’s new life in Ace Country, while her activities are more involved (she calls the university workload a “wake up call”), is not much different from the life she left behind.
“In high school I had classes all day and then softball practice at night. I like that that routine is similar to the one that I have in college because I have gotten used to doing my homework later at night, which is what I do now. I do have more free time during my day in college since I’m not in class from 8-3 p.m. every day straight; however, I have more responsibilities in college that I didn’t have in high school, so that fills my free time up. I love college so much more than high school. I hated how much some people cared about high school, all the petty friend group drama, and just the fact that I had been going to school with the same people since kindergarten. I also love the independence that college brings, and I love that everything that I am studying really pertains to what I want to do in the future.”
Every day Kalonihea fills her calendar with workouts, practices, and study group sessions, while Kellams finds other ways to stay busy.
“On days that I have work, I go to my morning class (Intro to Family Therapy). Afterwards I go straight home and get ready for work, grab lunch, and then head out. I’m an after-school care teacher and I work from 12-6 p.m. I am in charge of preschool nap time and then at 2:15 p.m. I take the aftercare kids (preschool through 6th grade) and am with them until their parents pick them up. On days that I don’t work, I am usually on campus for most of the day and I like to go to the library in between classes. These days I have classes spread out throughout the day from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Since I was doing dual enrollments for all my classes in high school, it doesn’t feel too different. I had a group of friends that I took classes with because we were all in the homeschool program [through high school]. I also took a lot of classes online during high school, which I didn’t enjoy. I definitely feel more independent now and I have more classes each day, which is different. I would say I like college better than high school because I enjoy the routine more.”
When she’s not working hard in the classroom, or needs a break from her family at home, Kellams can be found cozied up with a new romance book or searching for concert tickets to her favorite music artists- Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Joshua Bassett. Despite her close relationship with her family, especially her little sister, Kellams recalls sometimes feeling lonely at UE, since she is not living on campus.
“My transition was definitely rocky in the beginning and I 100% questioned whether or not I would be able to keep doing it. Once I adjusted to my new schedule and met a couple people, I felt a lot better about it. It can be hard to get into the groove of things, but once you feel comfortable it’s not bad.”
Kellams accredits part of her transition to the dual enrollment classes she took in high school and part of it to the welcoming and friendly atmosphere she felt at the University of Evansville. She found it surprising that she has yet to “encounter any unfriendly people on campus” and has even “found so many people that are really similar to me, which has been amazing.” If she could do it all over, “I definitely wish I had gotten involved in groups and activities right away, I think that would have helped a lot. And I don’t necessarily regret it, but I think if I had chosen to live on campus, I would have made more connections easier. When you live in a dorm, you’re kind of forced to interact with people.”
“Something I had to learn [when I got to college] was to adjust to not knowing things and being uncomfortable in situations. It was a huge adjustment because I didn’t know what I was doing at first and I didn’t know anyone. I learned to put myself out there, which was hard at first, but I’ve definitely gotten better at it.”
Adaptability and vulnerability aren’t the only important life skills that Kellams has started to master.
“I would say I’m pretty good at managing my time. One of the biggest things I got out of taking college classes in high school was learning to manage my time on my own and stay on top of things. Online classes especially, because it was up to me to make sure I got everything done when it needed to be. Now I am pretty good at prioritizing things and scheduling my time really well.”
Being a collegiate athlete, Kalonihea must plan her days out by the minute, adapt quickly to change, and be aware of how she spends her time. In only a few short months away from home, she’s learned so much more about herself and those around her.
“I think the biggest lesson that I have learned is that everyone is going through the same sort of struggles. Everyone is tired, everyone is in hard classes, everyone misses someone back home. This has helped me with my mental toughness; it’s steered me away from using things like these as excuses for getting behind on things, because I’m not the only person in the world who is tired or who misses their boyfriend.”
One thing both girls can agree on is their opinions on the college experience. Both willingly chose a school with a small student body and intimate class sizes, attesting to their priorities and views on education.
“When I think of ‘the college experience’ I think of joining a sorority, living on campus, partying a lot, and things like that. But some of those things are just not my style and I knew going into college that’s not what I wanted anyways. I think the point of college for me is working towards the career that I want. Although I don’t enjoy school at some points, I can recognize that I’m getting so close to being where I want to be, which makes me really excited.” – Abby Kellams
“When I think of ‘the college experience’, I think of the stereotypical movies with the parties and frats and all of that. That is not the college experience that I am getting nor is it the one that I want; party life isn’t exciting to me and I would rather spend my energy on other aspects of my life. I think that the point of college is to get an education at a high level and set yourself up to be successful in the future. I think college is where people learn the most about themselves. I don’t think every person is fit for college; I know that some people just aren’t built for school and would be successful on a different route in life. However, I think that being away from home at a young age is something that is essential for learning about yourself and is a necessary bridge to cross when growing up and maturing.” – Sydney Kalonihea
If Kalonihea had any doubts about her life at Evansville before she arrived, all of them have dissipated by now. If she could describe her transition to college, she would say:
“Smooth. I love the independence, I love the friends I’ve made, and I feel so privileged to be able to get an education while playing the sport I love. Whenever I feel stressed or miss home, I remind myself how lucky I am. The hardest part of my transition has been maintaining a long-distance relationship on top of all of the other things on my plate. However, my boyfriend and I both put in the effort necessary to make our relationship work because of the future that we want together, so at the end of the day, though I miss him a lot, we remind each other that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that everything we are doing now will benefit us in the future.”