What I learned about home after a year of college

I left high school with that familiar desire to get away. I had no particular destination in mind until I submitted by statement of intent to UC Berkeley, and I had no expectation as to what I would achieve by getting away, other than a bachelor’s degree. I just knew I was tired of my small hometown, my quiet lifestyle and what had been all too familiar for all too long.

As much as I loved my parents, my friends and my puppy, the idea of starting over in some place entirely new, where no one knew the high school or even the middle school stories that followed me, was absolutely amazing. I applied to only one in-state college and happily crossed it off my list of potentials when acceptances from elsewhere—literally anywhere else—arrived. I couldn’t wait to pack up and head out on a new adventure. But after a year away,I recognize the precious nature of home.

Once I got to college, I started noticing ways that my parents had shaped my life. For example, I started eating less snack food and relied more heavily on visits to the dining halls to grab a banana for later, suddenly aware of the fact that I couldn’t just go to Costco and buy a 50-pack of Oreo packets. Even Safeway was a trek from my dorm. Being alone on campus felt more difficult than being alone in my room at home did; there was a certain comfort in knowing my parents were just downstairs. Suddenly, I was limited to weekly phone calls with my parents, Skype sessions with friends around the country, and occasional check-ins via call or text. Communication was no longer effortless, and I found myself looking forward to those moments of catching up, brief as they were.

I didn’t immediately sense that the loss of physically close family and friends had as much of an influence on me as I now know it does – when I discovered in the midst of frantic finals studying that I was longing for homemade Chinese food and my own bed, I knew I’d had my fill of “getting away.”

When I returned home for winter break, I spent every day lounging around and catching up with old friends with whom I’d already established inside jokes and could reminisce freely. I went back to college telling everyone that break wasn’t long enough, not because it was free of homework and obligation, but because it had no mystery. Every other week, I discover some new passageway or eatery in Berkeley, and that sense of wonder, endless adventure and unfamiliarity is charming. But despite all of that, I craved the sense of security that can come only from a place you know like the back of your hand. I wanted to walk through my neighborhood, where I know every turn and curve in the road.

After a while, I didn’t want to try new restaurants and new foods anymore — I wanted to grab a burger and fries from a restaurant five minutes away from my house. I didn’t want to play with the dogs brought in for midterms week therapy — I wanted to pet my puppy, who has licked my cheeks a thousand times. And now that I’m home for the summer, I couldn’t be more relieved that I didn’t stay in California. The sound of my neighbor’s AC unit has never been more wonderfully irritating to fall asleep to, and the too-warm sunlight on my face has never been sweeter to wake up to. I don’t even need to be home to imagine all of these details; they have been etched into my memory forever as scenes with which I’m happy to be too familiar.

I can proudly say that after a year of college, I’ve learned that I need familiarity more than I thought. Yes, I became accustomed to the culture of Berkeley and learned to appreciate my new home state. Yes, I met remarkable people who made life-changing differences every day. Yes, college is amazing. But I’ve grown beyond the naive beliefs I held previously about the nature of home. While I’m happy to be where I am and do not regret taking the leap and leaving home for college, I’ve also come to miss the effortless joy derived from familiarity. I’ve realized that I can’t underestimate the significance of home, no matter where I go.

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[Image via Fox]

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