When I came back home to SoCal for winter break during my freshman year, I was invited to speak in front of my high school’s only AP Literature class about college and what can come from it. When I was standing there, nervous because I had only spent a semester at college and these people were looking at me like I was already a college counselor, I got a question from one student asking me, “How is it like to live far away from home?”
“It’s fun,” I said. But scary, I wanted to add, if I were honest. Let’s use Finding Nemo for example. When Nemo swims out over the reef to touch the “butt”, you can say that was like finally reaching your dream college. You’re far away from friends and family, but you feel like you are doing something amazing, something that helps you grow.
But then when the boat begins moving, suddenly you are swept away in the madness. Classes are starting, midterms coming through left and right, and suddenly (the hard part) you have to learn how to make friends again. Of course, it’s nothing like the grim scene when Nemo gets taken away from his father (yikes). But imagine entering this new school, new location, new dorm as if you were Nemo entering the fish tank in the dentist’s office for the first time. You’ll be surrounded by people who you have never seen before, who try to get to know who you are (“Where are you from?” “The ocean?” “OH MY GOD HE’S FROM THE OCEAN”), and despite all your efforts to leave, will become the people who you can get the most comfort from.
Aside from the Nemo analogies, when I was still in high school, I wanted to go to a college far away. SoCal to NorCal probably doesn’t seem that far for some people, but for me personally, I wanted to get out of my small city life. I felt stuck in where I was, not growing and not stepping out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t a matter of being around bad friends, because I personally loved the people around me (and I still see most of those same people whenever I go back to SoCal). But I was a big fish in a small pond, wanting to find where the ocean was. So when I got into Berkeley, it was suddenly like the opportunity to start a new chapter had arrived in the form of an acceptance letter and digital fireworks.
And at first, the first few weeks after I moved in were amazing. My classes were so interesting, the campus was so lively, and I was making lots of friends (despite my social awkwardness). Everything just felt so alive compared to my rather sleepy town in SoCal, and I was enjoying my time away from home for the first time in a long time.
I think for the longest time, my mind just thought of this as a vacation from home. It didn’t hit me just how permanent this move felt until one day all of the campus WiFi went out. Everyone on my dorm floor came out of their rooms, unable to be in the comfort of their internet connection. People began to scramble into our study lounge to play card games, or people were heading out in small groups to get boba. That night for me, however, I called my friends from home. I sat outside on the dorm balcony, listening to my friend’s voice on the other line telling me about how their college experience was going. They told me that everything was great, and that their workplace sucked, but at least they were around people they loved. I told them I missed them. They said that they missed me too, but that we would hang out soon.
When I hung up the phone, it was like I had the biggest wake up call. I was 408 miles from home, all the way across from California, feeling every mile pull me farther apart.
I’m a junior now in Berkeley, so I can’t really say I still feel that distance tug on me as much as it did my freshman year. I’ve made so many close connections here, finding my home in clubs such as Cal Rotaract, and really growing in my college experience. And for many of you thinking about going to colleges far away from your home, this article is obviously not to discourage you from doing so. My experience may not be your experience, but it’s important to know that there’s a certain reality when you move away.
Things may be scary at first, but you will eventually learn how to adapt. Whether you are a social butterfly or an introverted soul, going to a college far away from home can be difficult. You might be thrust out of your comfort zone more than you would want. You might be sharing a room with someone you’ve never met for the first time, taking classes that will challenge you more than help you, or having to make new friends when the last time you had to make a new personal connection was in middle school. College will expose you to situations you may not have ever faced before, and going to college far away from a community you are comfortable with might be more terrifying. But don’t worry! It’s part of transitioning to these new life experiences, and you will grow so much within the next four years (or less).
You might get homesick. And that’s okay. You are not alone. If you’re going to a school that’s an eight-hour drive away (or an expensive one-hour round trip plane ride), you might not be able to go home whenever you want. You might feel like you aren’t ready to be here in college, or you feel alone in this unfamiliar territory. I know I did, but one thing to know is that you aren’t alone. It’s such a bold move to go far away, even bolder if you are out-of-state or international, so sometimes you might not find your community or comfort zone right away. If you are feeling homesick, missing your friends or family, there are so many other ways to connect with them. Call them, go on FaceTime, tell them you miss them. Winter break or spring break will be right around the corner, and they’ll welcome you back with open arms.
Finding your community and creating personal connections will take time. If you’re like freshman me and are completely horrible at conversations, you might not be able to find your community right away. If you go to a big school like Berkeley, not everyone you meet will become a close friend. I think the reality is that quick personal connections are hard to come by the first couple months of college, when they are so plentiful back in where you are from (which can cause homesickness). But don’t be afraid to open yourself up and make friends. Join a club that interests you. You will eventually find your community wherever you are, and the people who will become your close friends in college will be all that more meaningful.
Going away from home for college may be tough, but in the end, college is what you make of it! It’s cliche–I know–but what matters most is what you do with your time away than how far you go. Despite all the complications that Nemo goes through, we know that Nemo makes it home to his dad and Dory in the end. Everyone goes at their own pace in college, and wherever we end up, we all eventually find our home.