A home away from home

by Haylee Barber

Moving away from home for the first time is not as you anticipate it to be. You have a certain set of expectations that you dream will be fulfilled. You watch movies about kids leaving home and watch as they load the van and drive off into the sunset. Then you think to yourself that will be you one day; it will be you driving off into the sunset with the rest of your life awaiting you. However, what the movies don’t tell you is that independence comes with its own set of struggles. It’s the things you don’t realize will be gone that you end up missing most.

It’s when you have a fever in the middle of the night and your mom is a long plane ride away. Or when you get home from a 14-hour day and there’s no one there with a warm dinner and a big hug to comfort you. Sometimes, it’s just the need to hear that you are doing okay, and a phone call just doesn’t quite do the trick.

Maybe you’ve experienced this before, or maybe you’re about to soon. Perhaps you are headed to college or still adjusting to the first year of being on your own.

Starting over can be hard, and it’s easy to lose sense of home when you’re in charge of yourself. The thing that we don’t realize about home, though, is that it is not a permanent location, like a house or a town. As people we grow and change constantly, and so does our understanding of what it means to be “home.”

I’ve been in that dark place of losing your footing. I’ve felt the absence of home for days, weeks, even months on end. There’s a quote I used to read from the film Garden State that I always felt was most descriptive of how I felt in this place. At one point in the film, Zach Braff said, “It’s like your homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist anymore.”

As our sense of home changes, we eventually learn to understand and create the feeling of home in a new way. For me, it meant moving into a new house with new people, and learning to appreciate the new community around me.

After my sophomore year of college, I was so disheartened with being out on my own that I was about ready to move back with my parents, regardless of the negative stigma surrounding returning to home.

In the end, I made the decision to continue living with other college students my age. When I signed a lease for my new house, I knew I was getting a new room, kitchen, bathroom and yard. What I didn’t know, though, is that I was also gaining a family.

My roommates and I are unlikely companions, due to the fact that we all have different majors and are from all different areas. When I moved in, I hadn’t seen any of them in months, as two were abroad and one I had met once in the spring. It was hard to adjust to not only reconnecting with them but also functioning as a unit in our home.

Moving in with these people taught me many things about how roommates function and how to be a support system as well. When you agree to be someone’s roommate, you, sometimes unknowingly, agree to see them at their best and worst.

I quickly learned to rely on them and finally felt as if I had a place a place to call home away from home.

I discovered that roommates are the people who hear you throwing up Sunday morning but love you anyway. They ask how your day was and will listen to you vent about your horrible professors. They pick you up in questionable situations but they don’t ask questions except “Are you hungry?” They don’t judge when you eat a bowl of cereal and a bag of Skittles for dinner.

And so, thus, the feeling of home became redefined for me. You may lose one family when you venture into the world, but we gain another through solid relationships. We long for the memories of our childhood home, but we unknowingly make new memories in the glamorous shacks that constitute college housing.

So maybe you are struggling to find a feeling of home. Maybe it’s just a day or two of homesickness, or perhaps you’re where I was, thinking you wanted to return to the ease of whatever was home before.

Before you throw your hands up, look around. Remember, it is not the big things about leaving home that you thought you would miss, but the little moments that make the old home special. Look for these little things in your new environment.

Maybe it’s a park bench that reminds you of a park in your childhood neighborhood. Or maybe it’s just getting out of the house on Sunday mornings to see the families around town when you miss yours most.

The hardest thing about leaving home can be starting again. But remember there is beauty in starting over, and try to look around at the little things. Maybe it’s a roommate, maybe it’s the crossing guard who waves to you by the elementary school every afternoon.  

Though, like Zach Braff says, we sometimes feel homesick for a place that doesn’t exist, it is important to remember that we always exist. As long as we are growing and changing we are reinventing the feeling of home. So maybe, home is not what exists, but what, or who, we appreciate it to be.  

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