In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are a few things I have a new appreciation for after (almost!) a semester at college:
- Showering without shoes on
- Living in a house with a fully-stocked kitchen and pantry
- Unfettered access to my cat
- Being able to work late at night without worrying about disturbing my roommate
- Not having to wait for an open washing machine to do my laundry
- Not having to pump my own gas (shout out to my fellow New Jerseyians/Oregonians!)
I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. Not so much for the food (I’ve never been a big fan of turkey) so much as for the chance to spend a long weekend at home with family and friends. During the end-of-school-quarter rush in High School, I was happy to have a few extra days to catch up on work and spend time with the people who mattered to me most—and, during senior year, a chance to spend a little quality time with my dear friend the Common Application.
This year was the first time that “spending time at home” necessitated a 10-hour drive through all of Pennsylvania. Fortunately, I had an excellent time thanks to a few friends from home who came along and some quality podcasts courtesy of Ira Glass and the fine folks at WBEZ Chicago. And after that long drive, I was excited to spend a few days catching up with friends from high school and regaling my parents and relatives with tales of all the fun things I’d been up to at college. What I hadn’t bargained for was a slight feeling that something was off when I got home.
The first thing that struck me about being back in Montclair was how disoriented I felt. Waking up in what I consider “my room” in Northeastern Ohio and going to sleep in what I also consider “my room” in Northern New Jersey made me feel like I was living a double life of sorts. The college town that I’d called home since August certainly hadn’t replaced the town I’d spent eighteen years in, but I couldn't deny that coupled with the feeling of being home was a pretty strong sense of detachment from my hometown.
Driving past the high school where until 5 months ago I’d been a student gave me weird sense of nostalgia—although I certainly wouldn’t say I wish I was in high school again. Rather, I was surprised by how quickly I had settled into my life as a college student, and how in almost no time I was thinking of high school and my hometown as something pretty far behind me. I got this same feeling of detachment when I was at home over fall break in October. At the time, I chalked it up to still being in the process of acclimating to college, and the fact that very few of my friends were back in town at the same time I was, but the feeling never really went away over Thanksgiving break.
Fortunately, seeing my best friends from high school was far from a let-down. In fact, I met up with them at our favorite all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant before I even went to my house. I was worried that there might be some awkwardness since it had been a while since we had all seen each other, but in no time we were trading stories over dragon rolls and shrimp tempura (I’d just like to note here that I’m a strong supporter of Philadelphia rolls and other sushi rolls with cream cheese, but I’ve chosen to name other common sushi varieties because I have reason to believe I’m in the minority on this). It was almost like we were back on summer vacation, and hadn’t spent the past 5 months in different parts of the country.
Hanging out with childhood friends made me realize that although I’m not wanting for friends at Oberlin, my friendships here just don’t feel as deep. But I don’t think I can reasonably expect them to be, just yet. After all, it’s hard to accumulate in one semester the shared experiences, personal history and inside jokes that I have with people I’ve known since elementary school. I have a hunch that in due time I’ll feel as close to my friends at Oberlin as I do to my friends in Montclair.
Even more than seeing my friends, spending time with my parents highlighted for me the ways that my life has become different since starting college. Like any good archetypical teen, I had spent a good chunk of high school wishing my parents wouldn’t be quite so involved in my life, and waiting for the moment when I could finally be independent of them. I can certainly say that being separated by nearly 500 miles is a step towards that—although I’m not sure I can really consider myself “independent” when they’re the ones footing the bill for me to be here. And while I’m certainly enjoying my newfound lack of a curfew, I find myself missing my parents in ways I hadn’t anticipated before college.
The moment that really crystallized this for me happened after I drove back to campus the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I was on the phone with my mom, getting the obligatory “make sure you sleep/eat enough and wash your sheets” and other assorted advice, when it hit me that, apart from breaks, there was a good chance I would never really live at “home” again. I’m now more responsible for my own well-being and success than I’ve ever been. It’s not that there aren’t resources for those sorts of things at Oberlin, but going to the Student Health Center isn’t quite the same as having your mom bring you a cup of hot tea while you stay in bed all day. My parents are still some of the first people I turn to for advice and guidance, but they’re no longer a constant presence, and I’m not sure they ever will be again. This was something I had known for a while; after all, that’s one of the main aspects of college. But this was the first time I really understood how much new responsibility I had taken on in starting college.
The overall weirdness of coming back to Montclair made me think about what makes home “home.” On one hand, Montclair is my parents, the house I grew up in, and the friends I’ve known for almost my whole life. On the other hand, Oberlin is my dorm room and roommate (and if I’m being honest my bed here is more comfortable), my professors, and eventually my springboard into “real life” and whatever nonsense that might entail. Montclair is in a lot of ways my past, and Oberlin (and beyond) is my future. This probably sounds awfully cliché, but it’s a lot more profound to me now that I’m in the middle of this transition. While I certainly miss parts of my hometown, I’m equally excited to continue my journey at Oberlin. I really hate to end a post with not one but two clichés, but in this case I can’t think of a better way to describe my feelings on transitioning from hometown to college than as a matter of just growing up.