If, back in the day, you had asked me what my least favorite thing in the entire world was, I would have probably responded with, simply, “camp.” An atypical response, I know, but as a young Boy Scout, from the summer of fifth grade on, I was forced to go to summer camp for a week every year, where I had a regular, old, run-of-the-mill miserable time. I hated the food. I hated the temperature. I hated the bugs. I hated getting dirty. Most of all, though, I hated the homesickness. I suffered very directly during that annual one week of summer camp from an acute case of the homesick blues, and, without getting into too much detail, it was really awful. I loathed my foreign environment and wanted more than anything to just be at home with good food and my parents and without people who were constantly walking around the campsite with soccer balls underneath their shirts, yelling “look at me, I’m pregnant!” So yeah, there were tears, there was stress, and there was a general lack of fun. (For the concerned, from my third year of summer camp onward, my homesickness miraculously disappeared and I began to have incredibly fun weeks, so it’s all good.)
What I’d like to discuss now, though, is not the acute homesickness that struck me during those summer camp years – instead, it’s the very similar, yet very different feeling of homesickness that struck me during my first semester of college. A big part of going off into the world of higher education is, for many people, the separation from home that it presents and the extreme amount of responsibility and pseudo-adulthood that comes along with it. The scariest thing, too, is that, even if you went to one of those eight-week summer camps, where you had romances and pranks and finding your long-lost British twin sister (as seen in The Parent Trap, starring Lindsay Lohan and another Lindsay Lohan, so I assume it happens at all eight-week summer camps), you’re still not ever totally prepared for the sudden drop into independence that college presents you with. Sure, like summer camp, you’re hanging out in a fun and exciting space with plenty of opportunity for wild experiences and life-long friends, but in college you also have to deal with other factors, like stress, a large workload, a difficult balance between social and academic lives, and where you’re going to get your next meal, to name a few. Plus, when you’re in college, you’re away from home for quite a long time.
All of this yields (or at least it did to me) a particularly odd strain of homesickness that’s neither extremely upsetting nor debilitating really, but that just hangs around in your head and pops up every once in a while to remind you that you’re really on your own.
OK, granted, I’m from New Jersey, so I don’t think it’s really fair to compare my homesickness to a student from another continent’s, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t walk around campus some evenings just feeling somewhat out of place, stuck in an alien world that I had to make my own. The comforts that you grow up with, everything from your family to your friends to your favorite restaurant, are no longer available to you, and it feels weird. I’ll tell you two things, though: A) this feeling is not permanent, and B) I actually think it’s good for you.
One night, after a brief weekend trip back to New Jersey for a quality bagel, I was heading back up to Boston when I looked out my window at the shimmering lights of Newark and New York, and for the first time, I realized I wasn’t sad to be leaving. Instead, I had a mild epiphany where I realized that my individuality and separation from my New Jersey world was not something to be feared, but rather something really beautiful. It’s hard to put into words, but looking out that window seemed to whisper into my ear a man named Nas’s resonating truth: “the world is yours.”
That was about a third of the way through my second semester. I haven’t felt anything close to homesickness since. Well, that’s a lie, actually – over the summer my absence from Boston had me missing to no end the Common and naps in Tisch and the hill and everything related to Tufts, which had, before my very eyes, become my home.
At the end of all of my tours on campus, I tell my groups that my only advice for them throughout the college process is to make sure that the school they finally choose is one that makes them feel a little bit uncomfortable. Of course I don’t want anybody to go somewhere extremely uncomfortable to the point of mental despair, but I’m a firm believer that growing and changing in college requires stepping out of your box a bit and putting yourself in a new situation, and the only way to really do that is to make sure that you go somewhere that pushes you just a tiny bit. So yeah, homesickness is a pretty solid way to grow. And that's good.