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Navigating the In-Between and The Meaning of “Home”

This time two years ago, I was in the process of applying to college. Out of my entire list of 24 schools, not one seemed to call out my name yet, but I knew one thing for certain: I couldn’t wait to break free from the confines of my hometown and to finally live life on my own terms. Now, two years later, I sit here in my college dorm as many other young people across the country sit at desks in their childhood bedrooms in front of a bright computer screen facing the same challenge I once did.

For many high school seniors, one of the hallmark college experiences they look forward to is finally leaving home and learning to become an independent adult in a new place. While college is of course about many other things—namely focusing on academics, finding your place on campus through extracurriculars, and meeting lifelong friends—the most exciting aspect for many students is the prospect of creating a life for themselves.

To me, there is something special about this kind of bright-eyed eagerness; it’s the kind of feeling that is written about in the songs used in coming-of-age movies. For 18 years, we grow up cultivating versions of ourselves that we believe to align with what we truly want out of life, yet at the same time, the people we are becoming are half created by the adults and caregivers in our lives. Then, all of a sudden, that changes when we go off to college. At this point, we are ready for the challenge. For the first time, who we are is totally and completely up to us, and naturally, leaving home doesn’t seem so heartbreaking, as the opportunity to go out and explore the world alleviates the pain of leaving a place we know we can always return to.

What I wasn’t prepared for, however, is the feeling that surfaces every time a break in the semester approaches: a newfound confusion as to where “home” even is anymore and the sense that who I am is becoming split between time and space of two separate locations. 

This is the kind of realization that catches you off guard, because as I sat within the four pink walls of my childhood bedroom two years ago, never once did I know I’d come across this feeling, nor did I know this was a part of the growing process. One moment I felt ready to never look back, and the next, I found myself back in my childhood bedroom on Thanksgiving break staring at a different reflection in the mirror than the one I left behind. I’m proud of how much I’ve matured, and I know 17-year-old me would be too, but it’s still weird to find yourself caught in the in-between.

So, as we head into the holiday season and another break approaches—the longest throughout the academic year—this is the time to take a moment and check in with yourself. While you might not necessarily miss all aspects of your hometown and your childhood bedroom, and maybe you’re even glad you’ve left that stage of your life in the past, there is still value in acknowledging your changing feelings of what “home” means to you. For me, this has taken part in how I now understand “home” to be more of an inner knowing and sense of safety rather than a specific place, but it might mean something different to you. Either way, your definition of “home” will find its way to you if you let it. 

Hannah is a sophomore from Westbrook, Connecticut and is an intended philosophy and creative writing major with a minor in dance. When not busy with academics, Hannah enjoys music, theatre, reading, and iced coffee.