Unprecedented, Unexpected Homesickness

Ever since move-in day in August, my concept of “home” has been inconsistent. I quickly came to love the community and opportunities at Kenyon, so much so that I nearly cried on my way off campus at Thanksgiving. In October, my family moved from the house where I had grown up to a new house, in a new city, an hour or so away from the old one. The first time I saw the house, besides the showing when we were considering buying it, was the first night of Thanksgiving break.

I’ve never been particularly sentimental about material things, so moving away from the old house didn’t mean a lot to me. I don’t miss it, and I don’t think about it often except to wish I still lived as close to my high school friends. Coming to the new house was a nice change of location, and I look forward to going to my new room, with its bay window and walk-in closet.

The change of homes disoriented me, though, in ways that I don’t think I realized until earlier this semester, when Kenyon, for the first time in months, didn’t feel like home.

I think I finally realized that I was homesick when I changed my phone’ screensaver. Before coming to Kenyon, it had been a selfie of me and some of my best friends from high school, and I hadn’t changed it from that in a year and a half. I had decided in December that I needed a change, so I set it to a picture of Middle Path I had taken in the snow. Last week, though, I changed it again, to a picture of my cat.

I love my cat. If you’re my friend or even my acquaintance, you’ve probably seen a picture of him (or you’ve had it shoved in your face). Pippin is probably my favorite thing about going home for breaks, so it just made sense for me to set him as the first thing I see on my phone. To be honest, it did make me feel a lot better to get a little reminder of him whenever I checked the time or answered a text. But it also made me think: was my screensaver change a symbolic one?

For the six months that I’ve been here, Kenyon has been my happy place. Constantly, as I walk down Middle Path or glance out of a stained-glass window in third floor Ascension, I think about how lucky I am to be here. It took a lot of dedication and a lot of luck (and a lot of generosity on my parents’ part) for me to be here, and I try never to forget that. The first few weeks of the semester, though, I found it harder and harder to be grateful.

First in my academics, then in my personal life, things started adding up, from inconveniences to major stressors. (On top of all this, I had strep throat for about a week.) I remember a day when I didn’t feel comfortable being in the library, or Peirce, or the greenhouse (where I go when I need a little peace and quiet), or even my own dorm room. I realized that I just wanted to go home.

This was an unsettling revelation, considering how unhappy I had been in high school and how much better Kenyon had been for me last semester. All I wanted, though, for a couple of weeks straight, was to go home.  

There are a lot of social pressures at college, especially one with as much rigor and as much isolation as Kenyon. I often felt like I was surrounded by responsibilities I was incapable of fulfilling, and that I was trapped here, with them. The “bubble” here on the hill that I had never before minded felt like a prison.

At home, though, you don’t have to go to the same place for every meal. You have a chance to get some privacy from people that are hurtful to you, and you have a clear separation between your academic and social lives. At college, though, I felt like there was no separation, and that I was bound to the impact of a dozen conflated stressors.

This thought was incredibly discouraging. I began to doubt my ability to be happy anywhere because if I wasn’t content in what I think is one of the greatest places in the world, where could I be? Gradually, though, day by day, things started to look up. I had a major confidence boost during Greek recruitment, and I was happy to receive and accept a bid from a sorority. Gambier had a few mild days of sun, and I was able to spend the time I needed with my friends, who always make things better.

I suppose my first bout of homesickness, all things considered, wasn’t too bad. Because it was triggered by events here on campus that were out of my control, I’ve tried to be easy on myself. Personally, I think I looked to home to ameliorate feelings that came from external triggers, not an innate yearning for my mom’s cooking or showering barefoot. This means that intense homesickness may happen again in the future when my outlook seems bleak. In the meantime, though, there are just a few weeks until Spring Break, and though I’m looking forward to it, I’m going to try and enjoy my time here first.

Image credits: Feature, Amelia Yeager, 2, 3, 4