It’s easy to believe that once we move to the city, our lives will begin anew—that come move-in day this city will automatically make us more interesting, independent, and self-assured. We will dive right into our new lives unafraid, unencumbered by our boring, small town past. But when you arrive at Columbia’s gates, you’re still you, and the life you were living before is still yours. And you might just miss it.
College wasn’t the first time I’d moved to a new city. I moved from Scarsdale, New York, to Parkland, Florida, in the middle of second grade, and I was not happy about it. It was a sudden and jarring change, forced by the cruel necessity of my father’s job. Of course, in my self-centered seven-year-old world, I thought that this was a direct attack on my personal happiness and well-being. I spent many a recess writing detailed letters (complete with visual aids, no less) about why we shouldn’t move, and delivering them to my father by hand when he got home from work. Sorry, dad.
The move was rough. I missed my friends, my house, and my teachers. I refused to enjoy anything about my new life out of sheer spite. I clung to every possible grievance against the state itself. I railed against the oppressive heat and humidity and seeming lack of excitement. And though my memories of New York faded away, I declared that I was still a New Yorker at heart. So I took what was left of my accent and my knowledge of the subway system and came back home for college. And everything just clicked into place, right?
Well, not exactly.
So many of us who come to Barnard and Columbia are searching for the exhilaration that our adolescence might have lacked. We’ve escaped our humdrum hometown where the locals just don’t get it. But after settling in here, we start to miss all of the everyday kindnesses that we took for granted, like the local coffee shop that knows our order, or the elderly crossing guard who remembers our name. In this always moving city, comparable moments of intimacy can be few and far between.
Now that I’ve fled the home that I always denied, I have never felt more proudly Floridian. And I’ve observed the same phenomenon in students from other states. In one breath, my Midwestern friends will passionately argue over whose state has better scenery, while simultaneously mocking their old high school traditions. My Pennsylvanian roommate ached to go off to college somewhere new, but she still rages against New York restaurants that claim to serve Philly cheesesteaks. And I feel myself perk up whenever anyone mentions that they are from Florida, and before I can stop myself, I ask, “Where in?”
Back home the most fun I could have on a Friday night was driving to the movie complex and loitering in a nearby dollar store; it often seemed that there was no place on this earth more remote and less cultured than Parkland. In the words of Barnard alumna, actress, screenwriter, director, and former hometown-hating teen Greta Gerwig, BC ’06, “I think it’s true of a lot of teenagers that you’re convinced that life is happening somewhere else.” For me, living in suburban Florida felt like the entire world was spinning rapidly, only it was just out of my reach. I was close enough to see the magic but not to touch it; smart enough to form an opinion, but too far away to make a change. It was frustrating beyond belief. Now that I’m here, I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given, and yet I can’t help but yearn for Florida, my home.
It’s easy to joke about all of the strange idiosyncrasies that are unique to where I’m from, but it’s harder to be honest with myself and lament the life that I left behind. A life that could be slow and understimulating and sometimes boring, but a beautiful life, nonetheless. A life full of bonfires in my friends’ backyards, school spirit days and face paint, winter carnivals, and sunsets over endless fields of sugarcane. It was quietly lovely, in a way that I just couldn’t see yet. I suppose it’s impossible to know how wonderful the world surrounding you is, until, suddenly, it is no longer there.
Isabelle Robinson is a first-year in Barnard College from South Florida. The top four things she misses about living in the suburbs of Miami are Publix popcorn chicken, being warm, golf carts as a method of transportation, and Loxahatchee sunsets—in that order. Shockingly, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird makes her cry every time. You can tell her what you miss/hate/love most about your hometown at firstname.lastname@example.org. Debbie Downer runs alternate Thursdays.
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