2 homes are better than 1

Alien on Campus

As with any new relationship, my first days at UC Berkeley were a honeymoon.

During the first weeks of classes, I would wake up early to walk around campus, breathing in the smell of the redwoods and discovering new favorite spots. As an international student, my future here after college was highly uncertain, so I felt the pressure to explore everything and make the most out of the four short years I had in Berkeley.

I was so enamored with Berkeley that I felt anxious at the prospect of losing it. Enthralled with the city, the people and my new life, I even joked with my friends that I would just have to marry an American so I could stay.

I admire that the people here are so passionate and ambitious. It’s thrilling to be a part of a campus where the students are all so politically engaged and aware — the protests I see on campus every day are testimonies to how much UC Berkeley students care about important issues.

But my long-term relationship with Berkeley was very questionable. As a consequence, I felt my sense of “home” becoming increasingly ambiguous. Home is where the heart is, right? But what if my heart falls in love with a place that was never meant to be permanent for me?

It didn’t feel fair that while my friends could easily decide to stay in the area, I had no idea how likely that possibility was for me. As a noncitizen, it would be extremely hard to get a job in the United States, and I don’t even have a plan for graduate school because I’m not sure what I want to study.

In my first semester, I put aside these feelings of ambiguity and anxiousness and decided to just enjoy Berkeley for now.

As time passed, the reality that I would live here for four years — that it wasn’t just a fun vacation — sunk in. My honeymoon phase with Berkeley began to fade. I realized there were a lot of things I would miss about Mexico and that maybe I was OK with going back there after college.

One day at a party, instead of the regular techno type of songs no one can dance to, the DJ played reggaeton and Latin music, and I immediately felt nostalgic. It wasn’t only about the music and the dancing itself, but about Mexican people’s warmth and sociability.

Mexico’s festive and collectivist culture was an important part of my upbringing, even though I’d never recognized this. It was something I looked for in Berkeley, where American individualism and competitiveness made me feel distant from the people around me.

Through this recognition, I understood that the United States didn’t have everything that I wanted. There were some things I could only get in Mexico.

As for the ambiguity regarding my future, the uncertainty is still very much present. I don’t know yet what will happen to me. I know that I love Berkeley and that I’m going to enjoy the hell out of these next three years — I still can’t believe one year has already passed. But I also know that Mexico is a part of me and that I would like to go back one day.

So I’m starting to realize that everything is a trade-off.

I miss Mexico — I miss my friends, the culture and the festivities. But I know I can always go back. And it is a great feeling to know that there is always a piece of land I can return to and that I will always be a part of.

But for these next three years, Berkeley, too, is my home. Already I have made friendships that I know are going to last the rest of my life, and I’ve found a community I’m proud to be a part of.

I might not be able to stay in the United States. But on the other hand, I have a whole other country that welcomes me with open arms.

Almost a year ago, I left my home to start a new one somewhere else. But what I found is that “home” doesn’t have to be just one place at all.

Alejandra Márquez writes the Wednesday blog on her experience as an international student. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ale_marquez20.