Zero week – freshman year. I finished unpacking my bags, my parents left, the last of my photos were pinned to the walls. I stood at the center of my dorm room, alone, and with no mindless tasks remaining to distract me.
And then, as I stood there wondering where to go, or what I should do, or who I should reach out to, the cloud appeared; an ominous, brooding cloud appeared above my head. It lingered there for a moment and then sunk and seeped into the crevices of my lungs and the folds of my skin.
I felt heavier suddenly, carrying this mass of cloud inside me.
I asked the cloud (politely) to leave, to find someone else to bother, but it remained. I wasn’t sure what to do, or who to tell about it, because if I didn’t understand this vague, yet troubling, undefinable feeling of heavy melancholy, I assumed no one else would either.
But little did I know that Mr. Cloud had inhabited countless others before me and countless after (as many a freshman, a camp counselee, a traveler, etc. can attest to). Others have been touched by it too, in some form or another… Homesickness, I eventually discovered, was and is not a phenomenon unique to only me.
As I lamented about the “illness” to close colleagues and friends, I was told over and over again that “you’ll get over it with time, within a few months at most.” Or “Stop wishing you were home,” they said, “and be content with where you are now.” Articles on the topic told me that homesickness has little to do with home at all.
Psychologist Josh Klapow says that homesickness is really about our “instinctive need for love, protection and security—feelings and qualities usually associated with home.”
And so I took their advice to heart, and set my sights on cultivating relationships here at school and developing an appreciation for the place I live during the year. I told myself that with time, the longing would fade, and I’d move on with my life. I’d learn to leave it behind, to finally shelve it alongside everything else I’d stuffed into the closet of my past. They said, “a few months at most” right?
Yet here I am, two years later, and the feelings remain. They’re more diluted, and fortunately, homesickness is not something that interrupts or defines my life, but I do continue to experience it from time to time. The problem is that at the start of the quarter, I felt embarrassed by my homesickness; I’ve come to associate homesickness with immaturity, with an inability to adapt and evolve, an inability to become an adult.
I felt ashamed of my own emotions.
But last week, after a conversation I had with a close friend whose backstory is very unlike my own, my view of homesickness took a dramatic turn. In short, my friend admitted to me that she did not want to go home, not only because of the drabness of her hometown, but because of her uncertain relationships with her family, and one family member in particular.
My friend hasn’t gone home for nearly two years because she simply does not want to – to her, home really isn’t “home” at all anymore.
That conversation helped me realize how blessed I am to come from a home that will always offer me constant support – support that, unfortunately, fewer and fewer people have. The conversation changed my perspective of homesickness as well; instead of brushing aside my longing for my hometown and for my family, for the lawn of grass at the heart of my neighborhood, or for the sidewalk that leads into downtown, or for the supermarket that sells German biscuits and African soaps, I accept it.
My desire to see my family again is not something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. That occasional gnawing, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach is a reminder of a blessing – it is a reminder that I am privileged to have a home that I yearn to return to.