Feature image from http://www.therandomvibez.com
Before going away to college, I didn’t give much thought to the idea of being homesick, because I had never really fully considered what “home” meant to me. When I came across sentimental posts on Facebook from upperclassmen friends who were graduating or had already graduated, I thought some of their posts were a little silly or maudlin; frankly, I could never imagine myself glorifying my home like that.
Turns out the joke was on me, because after coming to college, I learned the hard way that there’s a reason why so many people wistfully say “you don’t even know how good you have it until it’s gone.” In my case, it wasn’t until I had left home that I came to truly understand just how much it was a part of me and how I’d feel in its absence.
AN ILLUSION OF INDEPENDENCE
The pangs of missing home don’t really hit you at first; you’re too caught up in the excitement that is classes, new faces, and clubs vying for your attention left and right during orientation week. The first few days after I moved in felt strangely normal, like I already had a complete handle on living alone, when in reality this was a situation I’d never found myself in before.
Going to and from my dorm room between classes and meetings felt like the most natural thing in the world. After all, hadn’t I seen this done a thousand times in television shows and read about my favorite characters going through exactly what I was experiencing now?I had translated their experiences into my own, which led to me to falsely believe I knew what I was doing.
It wasn’t until at night, when I turned the lights off and got into bed, waiting to fall asleep, that I noticed how different the shadows were and the feeling of foreignness started creeping in. At first it just made me feel slightly unsettled, but after a few weeks, that feeling turned into full blown homesickness.
FINALLY RETURNING HOME…OR WAS I?
When fall break rolled around mid-October, I couldn’t wait to go home. I was taken aback by how much I missed home–although I’d only been gone for just under two months, it felt like another lifetime ago when I pulled out of my driveway back in mid-August.
The excitement didn’t fully hit until we were exiting the highway into my town; seeing the all-too-familiar landmarks was like being greeted by old friends. What used to be monotonous scenery I’d pass by almost everyday suddenly became sights that made me grin from ear to ear, because they signaled that I’d be home in a matter of minutes.
As we drove down the stretch of road leading up to my house, I marveled at how differently I viewed each tree, each sign we passed. These sights hadn’t lost their familiarity, but rather taken on a new kind of familiarity for me. Whereas before they were boring, something I’d see so often they bordered on eyesores, they were now comforting to me. Coming back to them grounded me in a way I had never needed in the past, and I came to have a sense of appreciation I never thought possible for something so plain.
If I felt this way about the drive leading up to my house, I could only imagine how happy I’d feel once I actually stepped foot inside. But when we finally pulled up by the front door and I took it all in, I didn’t feel the same sense of comfort that the sights before had given me. I felt let down somehow, like my actual home didn’t measure up to the idea of home I’d been looking forward to all along.
The feeling only grew as I went inside and walked around my living room, bedroom. It was the same, but somehow not the same. I recognized everything, but I didn’t respond to it the way I expected, like I understood the idea that this was my home, but my body didn’t feel the same familiarity as it once had.
I was confused, but more than that, I was sad. Sad because as much as I had adjusted to college life, two months was simply not long enough for me to feel like Cornell was home yet, and now the home I thought I’d known for years no longer felt like home either. I felt lost, like I didn’t really have a place to call home anymore. Unlike the trail of landmarks pointing me to my house, the place I arrived at made me feel empty, ungrounded, and unsure of where I belonged.
I didn’t know what to make of this unsettling feeling of being out of place as I spent the rest of fall break feeling like a visitor in my own home. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved being back in my own house, where I could enjoy the luxury of showering without flip-flops and sleeping in a full size bed again instead of the narrow twin size dorm bed. But I was also thrown off every time I opened the fridge and didn’t recognize where anything was. It may not seem like much, but taking that extra second to reorient myself made all the difference between feeling natural in my own home versus feeling like an outsider.
My interactions with my family changed too. As much as I had called them and FaceTimed them during my two months at school, being under one roof again initially felt strange, which was completely unexpected to me. I never realized just how big a role proximity played in maintaining strong relationships, and I was thankful to be close enough to home that I could return regularly for breaks to see my family in person.
Upon returning from fall break, I almost felt relieved to be back in my dorm. Not because of its luxuries, certainly (because there was little to none to be found), but because this room was what I had become used to in the past few months, and I was beginning to see that whether I meant to or not, Cornell was slowly taking the place of my house when it came to what I considered “home.”
COMING TO TERMS
I thought I was alone in my complicated feelings about what “home” meant to me, but after speaking to friends I realized many of them went through something similar during their own freshman year. One friend’s words especially resonated with me, when he realized that the “home” he wanted to come back to no longer existed. I immediately understood what he meant. Even though your house is still physically the same (for the most part), everything inside has changed, and the home you left is not the one you will be returning to.
Once you leave, you leave a gap that slowly becomes filled as the other members of your family alter their routines around your absence. When I left, I assumed that gap would remain untouched, and I could simply slip back into it every time I came home for break. Upon experiencing the reality of the situation, I realized what I missed was an idea of the home I had left rather than the objects in the house themselves. It was a bittersweet moment, knowing I was growing up and branching out of my roots, but also knowing that one of the only things I thought I’d always have with me, my home, was not with me the way I thought it would be.
It’s natural to miss home when we’re away. Whether it’s for summer camp, overnight competitions, or even vacations with friends, homesickness is something we’ve all experienced.
As adventurous and daring as we might like to think we are, a small part of us craves the familiar when we find ourselves in a new situation.
And there’s no situation quite as unfamiliar as college, when most of us leave home for the first time to spend months on end at a completely different place, sometimes hundreds, even thousands of miles away from where we grew up. As eager as you may be to leave home now, you may likely realize soon upon leaving that “home” as you know it now will mean a lot more to you than you think, so in these last few months, take a moment to appreciate exactly how much you will be leaving behind.
Latest posts by June Xia (see all)
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- The Bittersweet Pangs of Homesickness - July 5, 2017
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