On Sunday night, when I returned to campus after Thanksgiving Break, my mom called me. She wanted to know how the bus trip back was. When I caught myself saying that I had gotten "home," I stopped: "yeah, I'm ho -- er, back," I said. I could hear the sarcastic tone of her response through the phone, one that I feared was marked by hurt.
The truth is, I've always referred to college as my home. It must have started soon after I first arrived here as a freshman over three months ago. I don't remember the exact moment that I began to call this place home, because it never felt like a big deal. When I approached my roommates about this, they said they had gone through the same ordeal with their parents, and fervently stood behind the idea that our dorm was our home. It wasn't our home, but it was our home.
Following our discussion, I thought about the kinds of things that made me want to call college -- the place where I happen to study and live -- my home. Before I thought about this, calling college home was just a knee-gut reaction with subconscious reasoning. Focusing on it forced me to understand the features I so valued at my real home, back in New Jersey.
For one, my home was my home because of the people around it. In high school, I established a close circle of friends who quickly became an integral part of my life. We went to each other with everything, from math problems to friend drama to existential crises. My friends became my family, and my family made me feel like I belonged to something. I could never feel lonely for too long. And wasn't feeling like you were a part of something the essence of being home?
Another thing about my big town that made it home: the fact that it was mine. Maybe this wasn't so much a physical fact as a feeling. It was that feeling of security, that idea that everything you ever knew was right there, the one you got when you were cruising down side streets at midnight and blasting the radio on the drive home from a friend's house. This was the place where I had grown up and went to school and made friends. And therefore, it was my home.
Finally, and perhaps most literally, I considered our house in New Jersey a home because it was where I spent most of my time. Though in truth I seemed to spend more time outside of it as I got older, my house was still the place where I slept for eight hours every night (on a very good day), ate most of my meals, and saw my family. It was where I ended up after every long day, and so it was my home.
After contemplating the true elements of a home, I started to apply them to my new experiences at university. The first element I thought of, about home being made up of the people around you, was the easiest one to apply.
From the moment I arrived on campus, I met a few people on my floor that would soon become my best friends. Namely, my roommates. Our triple became a daily meeting place where academic troubles would be laid out, floor gossip would be spoken of in explicit detail, and support, whether a hug or a simple "you got this," would always be found. I couldn't help but compare our little community to the one I had at home -- the one that had made me feel like I belonged.
And then there was that feeling of owning this space, a space that I happen to share with over 30,000 other students. This did not come to me as fast as my friendships had -- but it was fast, nonetheless. I started to get a solid feel for the campus after my first week here, and by the second week I had known where nearly all the academic buildings were and how to get to them. Today, my friends refer to me to find the best bus route to get them to their destination. The familiarity that came with exploring campus every day and establishing weekly traditions with friends (like our Sunday brunch at The Bagel Place) made Maryland mine.
The fact that I spend nine-ish months out of the year here also makes it a home. But more than that, once I was here for a month, I felt like I was here for a year, as if I had always known how to live here.
I realize that this comes off as a very dream-like, idealized picture of college life, and that many new students never get this homey feeling. What's worse, they'll end up transferring to a different school because of it. I know that I got lucky with my roommates and my experience as a whole, but I also know that I'm not the only one who feels this way. This is why I wanted to look into the idea further and to find out why exactly we call college home.
I could just be overthinking it too in an attempt to make sense of this experience. Maybe it's about nothing more than merely liking it here, or maybe it's because most of us have been conditioned to look at college in such an idealistic way.
In any event, whether you find your group here or think you know everything there is to know about your college, you see a home here -- and that's worth a thought.