No matter how long you’ve been at Columbia, going home still feels weird. Bwog Babe Rachel Deal did just so this past weekend and tells us about her feelings on the relationship between being in college while also retaining a sense of belonging to your home.
I went home this past weekend for my siblings’ tenth birthday, taking the 1 train to Penn Station and then a five-hour bus to Cambridge, Massachusetts. I arrived at my house at a little before midnight on Thursday. My parents hugged me and heated up some leftover Chinese food, and I gave my slumbering siblings two big kisses on their foreheads, not wanting to wake them up on a school night.
I live in a suburb of Boston called Medford—the home of Tufts—on a dead-end street where there was once an orchard. My neighborhood is currently cloaked in snow—my dad, who towers over the rest of my family at 6’4”, is barely visible as he shuffles down our slippery walkway, snow piled high on either side of him. In a few weeks, the snow will melt and our magnolia tree will bloom just in time for my birthday in late April. None of my friends at home live near me, really—I went to school in Cambridge, bordered on either side by Mt. Auburn Cemetery and the Charles River and not far from Harvard, with kids who commuted from towns like Newton or Belmont or Wellesley, suburbs of Boston much wealthier than my own.
It was my first time home this semester, the first time in about six weeks (which, I’m sure, doesn’t feel like that long for those of you who live far from New York). I saw family and friends and former love interests. I did little work. I took my sister out for ice cream. I got ramen with a pal at the new place in Harvard Square. I went to a party on my friend’s floor at MIT. When I got back to campus on Sunday night, though, I felt drained—my head ached, my skin was peeling, and I thought that maybe I shouldn’t have gone home. Maybe I just felt like that because my bus ride through the snow took seven hours, but home also felt different—temporary—and I wondered if I would ever start referring to the city (or, maybe, to my dingy Carman double) as “home” instead.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come back to school in January—when I spoke to Columbia friends over break, they expressed how bored they felt at home, how they couldn’t wait to get back to the city, and I couldn’t really relate. At home, I felt like myself again. I went back to my summer job at the Italian restaurant and my volunteering gig at the Cambridge Women’s Center. I spent hours in various coffee shops in Cambridge—sometimes alone, working through books I promised myself I would read (Murakami’s After Dark was my favorite) and sometimes with friends, giggling over Tinder messages we had received and over botched self-portraits we had drawn in crayon. I took time for myself—I went for long runs along the Charles and long drives out past Concord and long walks around my neighborhood, passing again and again the street corner where I could see my bedroom’s (nauseatingly) pink walls glowing through the window. When my friend Amanda visited Boston toward the end of vacation, she noticed that break had been good for me, and I agreed.
I wonder when I will feel like “myself” at Columbia, but I also know that I can’t just wait for that feeling to come—I have to actively make spaces for myself here. I worry that, soon, my feeling of self when I’m at home will fade, and I won’t feel comfortable anywhere.
Each time I go home to Massachusetts, my parents ask me how I’m feeling, how my classes are going. When I sigh too heavily or smile too forcedly, their expressions get stiff and they ask me questions they don’t really want answers to: How are you handling everything? Are you doing the work? “Maybe,” they suggested one night in December, “maybe you can’t handle it. Maybe you need to stay home this semester.” My siblings would like that—they always say that I don’t spend enough time with them when I’m home.
I am trying to feel more like myself this semester. I’m been working out, going on runs in Riverside and Central Park. I’ve been waking up (relatively) early every morning to go to my Work Study job. I’ve been doing (more of) my work. I’m excited for Spring Break, too, and afterward, for Bacchanal and my birthday. My older friends say that how I’m feeling is natural, that freshman year is a weird time, so I’m hopeful for the future—soon, the snow will melt, and the magnolias will bloom.