A 16-Hour Drive Home

Sarah shows off her one-of-a-kind t-shirt found at Omaha-based, Foi Boutique.
Sarah shows off her one-of-a-kind t-shirt found at Omaha-based, Foi Boutique.

“It was just a feeling that I got when I came to campus,” Sarah says. “Right away I thought, ‘This feels like home.’”

Besides the mac and cheese bites, water polo and the concept of eating at a gas station, Sarah Altilio felt right at home here in Erie, PA when she began her freshman year last fall. After she managed to settle from a 16-hour drive from Omaha, NE, this fearless sophomore took the long trek to find a second home in the Hurst.

Even though she hasn’t felt homesick yet, Sarah will be the first to say Omaha is one of the nicest and friendliest places to grow up in. This homey feeling carried over quite seamlessly upon her arrival at Mercyhurst.

Sarah had little to no difficulty making a smooth transition to the Northeast thanks to the friends she made, who quickly became her second family.

“Sarah has great friends here who treat her like family,” says Bella Stephan, Sarah’s close friend since freshman orientation. “Sarah values all of her friends; so wherever she is, she’ll be happy as long as those people are by her side.”

Family ties are in fact what brought Sarah to Mercyhurst. She discovered the school after discussing college plans with her aunt, who graduated from Mercyhurst in 1988. Once Sarah knew she wanted to major in fashion, her search narrowed to three schools. She also visited Marist and Albright College, but it was the three tours she took at Mercyhurst that made up her mind. Sarah couldn’t help but realize no other school gave that “Hurst is Home” feeling she now holds dear.

In her first months, Sarah did notice a few things about Erie that would take some getting used to. “We don’t have a Sheetz back home,” Sarah says. “The first time someone asked me to go there for lunch I was like, ‘You are NOT supposed to eat food in a gas station!’ So that was a new one.”

Other oddities on Sarah’s list include mac and cheese bites, sports like lacrosse and water polo and how often people go downtown. “Here everyone goes out downtown, which isn’t really a thing in Nebraska,” Sarah says. “In Omaha, you really only go downtown for the market. There’s really no use for it other than that.”

Sarah and friend Bella Stephan cheese it up at the fashion department's annual holiday party.
Sarah and friend Bella Stephan cheese it up at the fashion department’s annual holiday party.

Don’t let the dull downtown scene fool you. Nebraska isn’t the middle-of-nowhere state outsiders assume it to be. It’s this common misconception about Nebraska that makes Sarah’s eyes roll.

Her friend Alexis Stuck, owns up to making this assumption. Alexis says, “I was surprised she had even heard of Mercyhurst. I wondered why she wanted to come here for fashion… and if she lived on a farm.”

Sarah can’t seem to shake the infamous farm question, which still confuses her because Omaha is a city of about a million people—bigger than Erie.

What’s the fashion scene like in Omaha you may wonder? It’s practically a fashion major’s dreamland! Sarah has four malls all ten minutes from her house. They each offer a variety of department stores you can’t find in Erie, like Von Maur and Dillard’s, plus other popular retailers, like Lululemon, Lucky Brand and J. Crew.

Fashion boutiques are all over Omaha too. “We have a lot of boutiques, and they’re all really popular. The two biggest are Four Sisters Boutique and Apricot Lane. I shop there all the time for vintage and unique clothes. They’re pretty expensive but definitely worth it,” Sarah says.

But it’s not the shopping Sarah misses most about home. Sarah admits, “Okay this is weird. We have a restaurant called Runza that’s only in Nebraska, and no one knows what it is. I guess you could say it’s like a healthy McDonalds. I think I miss that most.”

Sarah knew Mercyhurst was meant for her right from the start. What does Sarah suggest to students like her who chose a school so far from home? “Go wherever you feel is right,” she says. “Go where your heart leads. You really need to do what you love, and the rest will all fall into place.”

Sarah Atilio is a sophomore fashion merchandising major and marketing minor at Mercyhurst University.

Katy Huff, '17

Writer of words, baker of food, lover of music, buyer of clothes.