The end of summer always brings about a peculiar melancholy. It is a feeling that has much to do with departure and arrival. We leave one home to come to another, and leave the embrace of our parents for the instruction of our professors. And yet, even when we finally arrive and begin pushing those blue bins up and down the streets, certain questions nag us: How often do we have to call home? Do we have to heed the advice of our parents? Can we be fully independent? The nagging feeling probably goes away at some point as the euphoria of the college dream we are living overtakes us. Lining up outside Mel’s for a raucous night out, our thoughts don’t migrate to home. Furiously hoarding tomes at Book Culture, we aren’t suddenly overcome with regret for having not spoken to our parents in 48 critical hours. Soon we are back in the swing of the semester and whatever patterns of behavior emerged during the first few weeks calcify, leaving little room for a sudden re-examination of our communication policy with the home front.
It may be the difficulty in answering these questions with any degree of universality or certainty that keeps our attentions elsewhere. Each person has his own relationship with “home” that informs to what degree he stays connected with his home life while at Columbia. But although these questions are informed by individual circumstances, they cannot be answered on the basis of individual whims. By dint of the fact that we have to take the feelings and expectations of others into consideration, and because those expectations are so hard to gauge impartially, we have to answer the question collectively.
Ultimately, the answer to the question of how much we should separate from home can be conceived as a kind of negotiated protocol. As such, a college student must take into account the perspectives and expectations of his parents in arriving at the right degree of separation. So even if we want to be that totally independent, totally carefree, wild, and wonderful proto-adult living the college dream, there will almost always be a second opinion imploring us to reign it in and to call home at least once a week to provide a general update on nutrition, sleep patterns, and grades. There is a necessary balance between these two poles that probably delivers the most well-rounded and well-reasoned experience.
In our youth, we can’t be so bold as to eschew home for good. And even if we are making less dramatic moves toward independence, we shouldn’t forget the wellspring of wisdom and understanding that is available to us in our childhood homes, be it among family or friends. A lot of our hesitation around such questions stems from a bizarre American cultural condition where we flirt with the idea that our goal as young adults is to wrest ourselves away from home, to leave the nest and never return, lest we find ourselves stuck in a sexless vortex where momma’s boys and goody-two-shoes go to die.
The movies we watched as kids—those B-grade movies where the college experience is caricatured with a low-brow concoction of soft-core porn and slapstick revue—always seemed to cast parents and younger siblings as a kind of miasma of the uncool encroaching on the college life. The reality is far different. In many respects, having arrived at Columbia we owe a lot to our parents and siblings, to our extended family, and to friends back home. The whole “it takes a village” ethos, though generally reserved for armchair anthropologists, probably applies to the life of the Columbia student.
Some might strut around as a peacock royally proclaiming “We built this!” But at the risk of planting the seed of a budding identity crisis among our Grand Old peers, let it be known that people are collectivist productions. As a sign of deference, of appreciation, and—dare we say—of love for the people who helped get us here, we have to make many decisions about separation with specific concern for the feelings and expectations of the “village.” It then follows that despite all the talk of protocol and negotiation, there is something that distinguishes our feelings around such issues from the fodder of a political scientist’s manuscript: human relationships that matter. So if you find yourself in high-stakes negotiations, perhaps it is best to reach across the table, make some concessions, and tell mom you miss her cooking.
Esfandyar Batmanghelidj is a Columbia College junior majoring in political science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. He contributes regularly to The Canon.