This past Thanksgiving holiday, I had the opportunity to return home to Minnesota and spend the break with my family. Having spent the Thanksgiving break at home every year I can remember, I had become accustomed to waving it off as a ho-hum five-day weekend from school. However, attending Emory this fall stirred things up. I arrived in the middle of August and didn't return home until this past Thanksgiving. That period of three months where I was on my own, just me looking out for myself, changed my mindset significantly.

First, and most surprising to me, I truly began to think of Emory as home. Walking up my garage stairs into my house for the first time felt surreal as if I were in a dream, where months had passed by but seemingly no time had passed by at all. Something didn't feel right.

More importantly, my experience made me realize how lucky I was to be returning home. Over those three months, I had begun to miss my family significantly. While not necessarily homesickness, I began to truly appreciate what I had left behind. Separation from loved ones is a moving experience. It's both an intoxicating feeling of freedom yet can be a nervous attack. And while I enjoyed my fall at Emory immensely, I missed the order and familiarity I had enjoyed back home.

One of my first ideas, after I arrived, was to try some true separation from my parents, to gauge my "independence". Fewer phone calls from Mom were answered and more snapchats from my brother went unopened. And honestly, the plan backfired. Turning away the people I depended on the most, even just as some kind of weird experiment, left me more desperate to reach out for communication, jokes, and even validation.

When I finally allowed myself to relent, I had some great moments connecting with my family. Somehow, someway, I even had text conversations with my brother, something that rarely happened before I left.

When I returned home for Thanksgiving, I was able to finally get the full experience. I enjoyed the time off by sleeping, catching up on the video games I had missed out on, going on some runs for the first time in a while, and not opening up my backpack for the whole break. But most important to me was connecting with my family in ways I hadn't for months. Sitting at the table, looking at the people surrounding me made me realize how lucky I was to have people who cared about me enough to send me to Emory, checking up on me and encouraging me throughout.

But not only was it my biological family; I met a whole new family this past fall. The cross country team has been nothing but a joy to take part in, and I owe that to my extended family of runners. They have shaped my perception of college and life drastically for the better, and they have helped me realize the value of family.

If it takes moving a thousand miles away to realize how valuable family is, then maybe there was something I was missing. But regardless, if I hadn't, I wouldn't have had the realization of how much my well-being depends on those people. And thankfully I did, because if there was something extra special about this Thanksgiving, it was being (truly) thankful for family.