Rethinking Homesickness: How to Love Where You Are and Where You’ve Been

Nathan Wilgeroth / Colleges of Distinction »

Never in the first eighteen years of my life would I have been caught celebrating the suburbs. Suburbia is the birthplace of teenage angst—any jaded teens who’ve lived in the same house all their lives know that their cookie-cutter neighborhoods are where boredom festers and where time slows to a halt. When I began to apply for college, I did so with a sense of urgency, and I extended my reach to cities far, far away. I rushed north to attend school at a major city center 1900 miles from home. I needed to escape.

And yet, when I think of my hometown these days, I start to reminisce about my calm, quiet street corners and daydream about clean laundry and freshly cooked meals. Its image has entirely transformed into a warm place of refuge, a cozy solace of familiarity, the prime location for the freest, fastest Wi-Fi.

But what changed? Who am I to appreciate a trip back to a place I spent years trying to leave?

See, within the first couple of months of my freshman year, I came down with a serious case of homesickness. No matter how badly I’d wanted to escape my hometown, the shock of being independent at school proved to be horribly scary. Almost immediately, I ached to fly home, already planning to submit a transfer application to a school within easy driving distance of my parents’ house. I was convinced I needed to go home, not because I missed it, but because it was comfortable and something I was used to. I decided that I wouldn’t be happy in either situation, so it was in my best interest to go home and be bored to death rather than stay at school and be shaken with fear. Needless to say, I can be a little melodramatic in times of stress.

After a lot of thinking (and, yeah, a little bit of crying), I realized that both the angst that pushed me away from home and the homesickness that yanked me back were both panicked responses to the same major life events: growing up and the transition into an entirely new lifestyle. While my angst was an extreme urge to get the transition started, my pangs of homesickness were cries of resistance to change. They were both natural reactions, but they fired off into a dual of fight vs. flight. Ultimately, I knew that something in me was ready to challenge myself to change, while another part of me cringed at the thought of what hardships would come with that challenge. But such is the art of growing up—it’s all about being afraid, and moving forward anyway.

I returned to school with a determination to bite through the fear and learn to love my new city. The previous semester, I’d done nothing but sulk in my dorm room, write poetry about how I didn’t belong anywhere, and feel sorry for myself under the flickering light of my fluorescent desk lamp. It was time for me to kick myself out into the city streets, exploring what the world outside had to offer. Locking myself in a tiny room had only put me at a severe disadvantage—it was no wonder why I was so ready to go home!

In time, after immersing myself into the city, I welcomed the new college environment and lifestyle into my heart. It wasn’t easy, and I can’t say that my homesick sob-fests ended abruptly, but my determination to get to know my new setting put me at peace with both home and school. I managed to survive the challenge of transitioning to school, thus destroying my nagging need to haul myself back home. I have adjusted and grown, and I’m now able to abandon those waves of homesick panic and tireless angst.

Growing up is not about maintaining a stagnant mental state as the body matures. It’s about ever expanding, absorbing new experiences and environments that shift one’s worldview and perspectives. Unfamiliar situations are not to be feared, and home is not something to throw away carelessly into the past. My hometown is no longer a place to run from, nor is it one to shrink back to. Instead, it’s just a pleasant rest stop, a familiar place in which I can kick my feet up after a semester of hard work. But after a few home-cooked meals, it’s my responsibility to leap out, fully energized, into the constantly widening world beyond. If I’m content where I am and where I’m heading, I have no need or desire to revert back to who or where I was in high school. I have grown, and I am growing.