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This Home and That Home

Once you are settled in to college, how do you survive four years of coming and going?

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Photo by Daniel Huff.

There are a decent number of resources out there dedicated to getting you comfortably settled into your first year of college. My peers, veteran students, and well, Buzzfeed have all written about the transition. I appreciate their attention to this phase of a young adult’s life; it is not easy to move out. Even though my experience was not that difficult, I know so many others who needed a little extra wisdom to help see them through. However, after experiencing quite a bit of discomfort after my first few holiday trips back home I realized that the resources stop too early. Sure, getting settled is important, but what then? How do you keep your wits about you as you are bounced from setting to setting for the next four or more years? With the holiday season right around the corner I figured it was about time someone wrote the next chapter (or even just a summary of the next chapter) of the classic “how to become a blossoming college student” tale.

The way I see it there are three key phases to master: leaving home (leaving school), coming home (returning to your hometown) and going back home (returning to school). Now, all of those uses of “home” right in a row must be confusing you; that is the point. To get through this part of life with your sanity intact, it may help to accept that home is not one place anymore.

The first part of this chaos is leaving school. Whether it is your first or your fifteenth time leaving dorm sweet dorm, I find this part to be the easiest. From the beginning of a school vacation, the road looks smooth. Even if you do not foresee any conflict with switching beds for a few nights, do some small things to prepare yourself for displacement. Bring something with you that reminds you of school (not in the way a textbook does, something more like a souvenir). Set up a time to talk to school friends while you are gone. Take some homework with you that you can ignore for a week and do on the flight or drive back.

The most difficult section of this journey is the middle. Once you arrive back in your old stomping grounds, it can be easy to get sucked in to feeling like something is wrong with you. Why do I feel different? Why am I not my old self? These were my pitfall questions. Even if they do not end up being yours, I think I can get in front of most of the discomforts by saying this: it is not going to feel normal. You are going to feel weird. For some, just knowing that may be enough to get you through. If it is not, I will offer this sentiment as well. This place does not feel like it used to because it is not; it has changed and grown since you have been gone. There is nothing wrong with visiting old friends and old places but pay attention to who and what they are now. Start from the beginning and learn once again what this strange place is. If you spend too much time trying to understand why your old hometown is not what it used to be, you will not only miss all the great new things it has become, but you will waste your own time with feeling uncomfortable. The other important strategy is to remember what you are going back to. Try not to get blindsided by your return date. Squeeze in any adventures you want to go on early, so you are not caught with a list to finish. Talk to college friends, tell new people about college experiences. Even if you struggle with your old home feeling strange, do not let your new one start to rot away in your memory.

The last piece of this puzzle is returning to school. No matter how excited I am to get back to my routine in Georgia, I always feel just a little nervous coming back. What if people have changed? What if I am not able to be my old self? Easy. You have done this before. It is the same strategy as before. Learn what is new. Learn what is the same. You can not expect to continue right where you left off but that is okay because you have changed too. Who knows if that old life would even be right for you anymore?

This all may sound like a lot to think about, especially when considering a brief vacation such as Thanksgiving, but I disagree. I think these strategies can be most important for these quick trips, because it is better to be prepared. Feeling displaced from home will sneak up on you when you least expect it. Embrace it. Never forget that for every day your home has spent changing, you have spent one changing as well.

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This Home and That Home