I sat on the train from Oakland, California to New York City a week and a half ago, wondering, “What is home?”
The house I grew up in ceased to be home when my parents divorced, and neither of their current houses are home. I felt somewhat disconnected from Oakland after being in NYC for nine months. It feels as like I’m a stranger when I’m in Oakland. How has my year at Columbia had this effect? I was speaking with a fellow sophomore, and I asked him where he feels his home is. He replied, “When I am there [his hometown, out of the country], I feel like an outsider, but when I am here [Columbia] I feel out of place, like I should be there.” This feeling seems to be fairly commonplace, especially among those coming from a less urban setting than New York City.
Being here at Columbia—among so much diversity in ways of thinking and being—has an effect that cannot be avoided. Being here changes us, which is both a curse and a blessing. We grow a lot, being away from our past places of residence. When we return, it may seem that things are stagnant in comparison to the steep learning curve we experience here. We are lucky to be a part of such diversity, but it can make going back to our old friends difficult unless they have had the same experiences. One of my best friends from first grade is completely directionless, with very little ambition, though he is attending a local community college for which I am glad. My other best friend, who I have known since kindergarten, has not yet continued his education, instead of joining the Marines. It is often difficult to connect with them because my experiences here have been so radically different than their experiences back in CA.
Last semester was difficult in part because I felt out of place in both Oakland and New York. I was starving for a sense of home. I nearly failed two out of four classes and almost did not return to Columbia. Then this summer, I connected back to my indigenous roots, my ancestral home, if you will.
I picked up two different indigenous flutes. Neither are from my tribe (Yaqui), but the music has allowed me to explore a side of myself that had been dormant. My flutes help me to stay grounded and give me a sense of place that I lost last semester. Because of this, I am often around campus playing my music. I was flute-playing around campus this last week when I met a freshman from a small, very conservative town about a week ago. He was experiencing acute culture shock, having just walked a drunken friend back to her dorm and seen a passed out young woman on the ground being picked up by CUEMS. He asked for my advice in maneuvering this crazy new world. I will close with what I told him, which is something a mentor told me. It’s a good message, and one I need to remind myself of continually:
Find something you love, and take it. Steal it. It will not be given to you. You come here for an education, but you won’t get it in class. Your education is what you steal, not what your professors hand you via syllabi and lecture notes. Find something that calls out to you, and call back (this is the scary part). Call back, grab it, and don’t let go because this is what will sustain you for as long as you need the support and then some.
I found something that called me, and I called back. Because of this, I did come back. I am very glad that I did, for upon arriving I realized how much I missed it here. Does this make NYC home? I don’t know yet, but I seek to bring home with me through my music.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore. He is the president of the Aikido Club.