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Liz Nichols / Staff Illustrator

I slouch over my computer in Avery Library, the light of a bright lamp shining on the lenses of my glasses and my keyboard. It is a few weeks before the holiday break and I am planning my finals schedule on a Notes document, figuring out how to best allocate my study hours. I type in my last final’s time slot: December 18, from 10:10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then I pause. I hold my cheek against my left hand. I dribble my right fingers against the table.

I feel like I’m listening to a familiar tune, but I can’t quite remember the lyrics. My cursor blinks back at me, asking: What next?

It’s easy to get absorbed in the endless checklist of our lives, but as my cursor blinks back at me, I get lost imagining the sequence that always repeats when winter break rolls around. Scanning my ticket and boarding the plane that will take me to where I have always called home. Walking past families bustling to their gates with their young children in tow, I sometimes wonder if these families ever consider where else their children might call home someday. Quick nods to other 20-somethings, as if to mutually wish each other a happy holiday while we travel home. And a nagging feeling I have felt more and more each time I go through this series.

The lyrics still escape me.

What next? I will leave my last final exam and pack my things up, despite telling myself that I would do that earlier. What next? I will gingerly set my alarm and hope that I wake up on time to catch an early flight back home, miles and miles away from school—no, from home. Home?

As I exit the plane and catch my first crisp breath of North Dakota’s December air, my eyes well up. I often catch tears in my eyes from the cold, but I know that it’s not just the stinging windchill this time.

When I left home to go to college, I was eager to grow and ready for change. I neglected to remember that everything I was leaving behind might not stay the same either, and driving home from the airport is always a cold reminder. Of course, I still hold a sincere connection to home and the group of loved ones that I have maintained in close contact with. But home itself is changing, and the group of people I maintain meaningful contact with seems to grow smaller and smaller each year.

Something begins to feel familiar.

As my cursor blinks back at me, I think about the hours I want to fill outside of studying; the faces I want to see—the faces I am now so used to seeing at this new place I call “home”—flash through my mind. I dread over the hours that I know I need to spend studying as this new feeling of “home” keeps prodding at me. I begin to realize why I feel so conflicted when I scan my boarding pass, and why it’s not the chilled winter air making my eyes water.

I think that I’m starting to remember the lyrics.

Being a homebody, transitioning here certainly was not easy. I love my hometown; I always have and always will. I can’t help but feel as if this love has changed, though. Home is not the same anymore. It will always be “home” in the formal sense, but it is not what I left as a budding high school graduate ready to take on the world.

Conversely, leaving it has helped me acknowledge its flaws and limitations—to my great dismay, as I never want to feel like I am dissing my own home. At this point, returning home simply feels like college-me is “just visiting.” The place that has given so much to me––the town I have always been a proud resident of––has become a place where I feel like a guest. Knowing this, it becomes much harder to leave this new place I off-handedly call home in conversation without realizing. When I say “I’m coming home,” I am not quite sure where I am referring to anymore.

The faces that flash in my mind while I stare at my schedule—one that lays out the time my first exam begins to the moment I arrive in North Dakota—is not just a reminder of my newfound college relationships. They remind me of what home feels like, and how my concept of home has become so fluid, so uncertain.

I have heard this song enough times now to realize that maybe I can still love it without anchoring myself to it. With my cursor still blinking back at me, I open my music, and press “next.” After all, there’s plenty of songs left to love, and I’ll always remember my favorites.

Prem Thakker is a junior at Columbia College studying history and would like you to read this piece while listening to this song. If you have any thoughts about your relationship to “home” or simply feel anything while reading his writing, he would love for you to reach out at pt2480@columbia.edu. His column, Colon, Closed Parentheses, runs alternate Mondays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

Home Growth Change Belonging
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