The sweetest homecoming

The first time I felt at home at UC Berkeley was on a February night at 2 a.m. I was a sophomore and one of three assistant news editors for The Daily Californian, but at this particular moment, I was a reporter who decided that a fun thing to do would be to cover a protest that had carried on into the night. About 50 students were protesting the appointment of UC President Janet Napolitano by camping overnight outside the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and a few had chained themselves inside the building. I volunteered to stay at the protest in case there were any developments during the night.

I wasn’t alone. My two friends and fellow assistant news editors, Alison and Virgie, had also decided that staking out a protest at 2 a.m. on a cold February night sounded better than sleeping or studying for the classes we were behind on. The protest was peaceful, quiet even — there really wasn’t much students could do but wait out the night. Someone burned sage. Students laughed, danced and listened to music.

That night was the first time I had felt actually at home since coming to college — covering a protest with two of my favorite human beings as we huddled together to stay warm.

Two years later, I wonder why. Why did that feel like home? What is home? Is it a place that you feel you don’t have to hide yourself or a place that you feel you can become the version of yourself that you dream about?

I was well into my second year and had a handful of friends who made me feel welcome and happy, but at best I felt that I was muddling my way through. It wasn’t so much that I was insecure or that I didn’t fit in — it was more that I was confused with how homesick I felt in a place that I thought I should be making more my own. College is one of the first places you can create your own world, and I felt I hadn’t done that yet.

But there, my head resting against Alison’s shoulder and my hand in Virgie’s as we watched 50 of our peers protest under a night sky — that felt like home. We were cold and stressed, but happy and giggly that we were together, despite the situation. Maybe it was because of something else entirely — watching our peers create a community in hopes of elevating their own voices and us taking on the role of witness. A little world, if just for a night.

I’ve found endless homes at UC Berkeley and the Daily Cal, and most of them start and end with my friends — the spaces we create, the jokes and passions we share, our vulnerabilities that we let each other witness. The Daily Cal’s office at 2483 Hearst Ave. could explode tomorrow, but as long as the editors still run budget meetings, the 200-plus students who work on the paper still coalesce to create something bigger than themselves and that horrible vending machine survives, the Daily Cal will still be a home to me.

Home is also the apartment I share with Jennie and Luis — less because it is a physical space we share, but more because of the nights filled with jazz music, tea and endless episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” I’ve found a home in Zach, Chaddy, Areya and Jennifer, my classmates who became my family, willing to discuss the intricacies of Beyonce’s genius over studying. Home is Simone, who supports and carries the entire team on her back. Home is Leah, who shares my love of books and is my creative counterpart. Home is every friend who stayed with me when I struggled and believed that I could make it. Home is calling Jennifer when I need to cry and her comforting me when I show her my hurt. Home is eating soup with Nathan and us slow-dancing in the living room.

And I am also my own home. I made homes and worlds with every person dear to me, but I tried my best to become the person I could come back to each night. I tried my best to become a person whose decisions I could live with and a woman who I could love and heal when need be.

UC Berkeley may have more than 30,000 students, but it’s also a place where I’ve felt the most alone. UC Berkeley is nowhere near perfect, and I don’t think it will ever be. Maybe that’s a good thing. Because part of building a home is making it better and improving it for the people who come next.

As I approach graduation and the reality that I will be leaving Berkeley to head to my next destination, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous to leave this university behind. But I think I’ll be okay. I might be leaving this city and campus, but I’ll be carrying every home, every world I’ve created and every person I’ve loved with me wherever I go. And after everything, I’ve become my own home, too — and that’s the sweetest homecoming of all.

Sophie Ho joined the Daily Cal in fall 2012 as a multimedia producer before becoming a news reporter in spring 2013, an assistant news editor in spring 2014 and the executive news editor in fall 2014. She was a lead member on the projects team from fall 2015 to spring 2016. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science.


Contact Sophie Ho at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @sophanho.