Before setting foot on Columbia’s campus, I hadn’t spent more than 10 days away from my family. After saying goodbye to them in the Van Am Quad back in August, I was overwhelmed that I’d have to deal with the longest stretch of my life without seeing my parents, laughing with my little sisters, or petting my dog. I was counting down the two months until my dad would fly in from Los Angeles to spend the weekend with me.
Geographically, homesickness has nothing to do with home. Despite spending my whole life in Los Angeles, leaving my hometown behind was easy. I’ve wanted to live in New York since I was a little kid, before even seeing it in person, and I was ready for a change of environment. For me, being homesick has more to do with the people at home than home itself. Family has always been a constant to me. My house was never empty or quiet. I grew up used to loud voices, food cooking in the kitchen, and people barging into rooms.
My John Jay single is nothing like home. My sisters aren’t banging on my door while cracking up over a joke; my dad isn’t setting off smoke detectors while cooking dinner; my mom isn’t turning off the lights every night to save money. In a way, the distance and independence are exciting. It’s nice to be on my own. But as time goes by, it gets simultaneously easier and harder to be away.
When my dad came to visit me, I spent the weekend far from campus, wandering the city and lingering in jazz clubs and eating fried chicken at midnight. At 3 a.m., after hugging my dad goodbye, I found myself in my empty and quiet John Jay single, thinking about how much longer I had to go without seeing my family. I was holding back tears, but still, deep down, I felt reassured.
My dad’s visit was a two-month milestone for me. It served as a reward for making it that far without my family. Sitting in my room that morning, I thought about everything I had learned in the past two months that made this distance bearable, and everything I know I can do to make it even better.
To start, leaving campus is therapeutic. I find solace in wandering into Harlem or hopping on the 1 train and exploring downtown. There’s always something to be found in this city. Though it wasn’t hard to leave LA behind, there are moments when I miss Mexican food and sunshine and tire of hearing 6ix9ine in the streets. Finding what I love most in this city without a large price tag helps me find home here: cheap jazz clubs, free concerts, walking down city blocks, and eating from Halal carts.
Phone calls also provide small doses of what I know I have waiting for me back home. On rough nights and slow weekdays, a call to my family motivates me. Getting that time away from home and being on my own is necessary for overcoming homesickness, as it is for any student who misses their family, but calling home every once in a while can go a long way.
I didn’t want my dad to leave me that weekend. I wished I could’ve skipped school for the rest of the week, instead staying up every night listening to hip-hop and talking until the morning. But seeing my dad made me recognize how far I’ve come by being away from home, and seeing him walk away made me realize how much more I have in me to make the most of this time on my own.
Above all, patience has been vital for getting through these first few months. This first semester hasn’t been easy for me, as first semesters usually go for new college students. I’ve had a hard time meeting people and making friends. Among classes and tests and homesickness, it’s hard to find the energy to stay proactive. I’ve found that the key to staying positive in this first semester is waiting for time to take its course and knowing what I can and cannot change. I know that as long as I put myself out there, things will improve over time. I know that, as bad as days can be, I’ll be back home joking with my family in December. I know that though some nights can feel lonely, the following day can feel the exact opposite. I know that, above all else, what matters most is focusing on what feels great about being here and not what I miss about home.
The author is a first-year at Columbia College who is too distracted by the city to figure out what to study. He is a trainee for the Opinion section of Spectator. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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