When 38 miles is too far

I never thought I’d be the type to get homesick. As a senior in high school, I imagined myself arriving on my future college campus, instantly making friends and gallivanting around a new city with them, embarking on crazy adventures and making lifelong memories.

In reality, I spent every night my first week at school in bed crying, watching “Friends” and shoving my face with the chocolate that my mom had secretly packed me at the bottom of my toiletries.

After deciding to attend UC Berkeley, a school only 38 miles from the house I grew up in for 18 years, I firmly believed that I’d be too close to home. I thought that I would never be able to craft a college experience that was entirely my own and that I would never be able to be feel independent from my (almost too) loving parents. But as they waved goodbye and drove away down Gayley Road, leaving me to start my new life with my brand-new bedspread and plastic drawer organizers in a residence hall room that I could call mine, I never felt more alone. Thirty-eight miles never felt farther away.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter how far away from home you are — starting a life in college, whether it’s down the road or across the country, can feel as foreign and disruptive as moving to the moon. The realization that you’re on your own can hit you with numbing force at times when you least expect it, such as when you’re making your first cup of instant noodles or separating laundry by yourself for the first time. In moments like those, it’s hard to to resist feeling overwhelmed by your new life and a longing for home.

The part they might not tell you during the hustle and excitement of orientation is that it’s OK to let yourself give in to these moments. While Golden Bear Orientation leaders and convocation speakers rattle on about the joys of attending the No. 1 public university in the world and all the amazing opportunities ahead of you, it’s also perfectly normal to mourn the parts of your life that are now behind you — the comfort of seeing your high school friends every day, the familiar streets that you grew up on and the luxury of having someone else take care of you instead of having to do it yourself.

I’ve found that the first thing one must do to defeat homesickness is stop denying it. Laying in my bed crying to “Friends” with chocolate smeared all over my face was the first time I admitted to myself that college wasn’t going to go down exactly how I thought it was and that it was OK to miss home. The perfect vision I had constructed in my head wasn’t real, and after I accepted that, it got easier to settle into my new life exactly the way it was. Classes began, I started meeting new people, and my desire to hop on a train that would take me the short 38 miles home grew less intense.

The next step to overcoming the longing for home and accepting your new environment is letting go of the idea that other people don’t feel the same way. No matter how many Snapchats at parties your friends are posting, no matter how hard that squad of floormates is laughing at their table at Crossroads, nearly everyone is undergoing the same whirlwind of emotions. There’s not a freshman out there who hasn’t at some point craved their mom’s grilled cheese or teared up after receiving pictures of how much their dog has grown since they left. Finding solidarity in homesickness can be a key way to getting past it.

After that, the only way to conquer homesickness is to forge a new home for yourself. Put yourself out there, find things that make you happy, and surround yourself with the right people, while also giving yourself space and time to adjust. You’ll know when you’ve found your new family, your second home, and they will ultimately fill the spaces in your life where homesickness resides. Overcoming homesickness is your chance to create a life, a home and family that you can call your own, so that maybe in four years, or 10, or 50, when you leave Berkeley for somewhere new, you’ll feel that same sense of longing for the home you built here.

Contact Hannah Nguyen at [email protected].