When home is no longer home

Jan. 15, 2019, 12:31 a.m.

Halfway into my first quarter at Stanford, I finally called my mother.

Hearing my mother’s voice on the phone, I recalled a memory of home and fractured something within myself. Time, I’ve learned, seems to work differently here, where daily life takes on a dizzying pace. At Stanford, it’s so easy to forget the world and people outside a place where each day takes on the length of a week and each week passes by like a day.

I think my mother’s voice reminded me of everything I had left behind. Going into college, I wanted to invest in myself and think about who I wanted to be. I began my frosh year with big questions about myself and my place in the world, questions that resist definite answers.  As much as I found myself challenged by new interactions within the community I was beginning to form, I also clung on to my idea of home as the one semblance of permanence in an otherwise uprooted life.

The home and community I had left behind, however, was not the same one I returned to. When I reconnected with my family, high school teachers and friends over winter break, I became troubled by the realization that I didn’t know what home meant to me anymore. I thought of home primarily as a place, but grew to understand that it also included the people who truly saw me, as well as the consciousness of being seen.

Language failed me when I was asked how my first quarter had gone. I wanted to condense the past few months — all the people I’d met and experiences I’d had — into a perfect distillation of the person I felt I’d changed into but instead found myself at a loss for words. How could I explain the strange paradox of a group of people each trying to find their own way in life, together? I couldn’t yet say with conviction that Stanford felt like home, yet neither did the place in which I had spent most of my formative years.

Much of the discomfort I had in summarizing my first taste of college was that I recognized my tendency to gloss over the bad and highlight the good. Only to a few people did I reveal the intense loneliness I had felt at times, an inevitable consequence of trying to uncover myself through immense introspection. But I believe loneliness is also powerful and affirmative because it makes you appreciate the times when you are able to connect with people, when you have those moments of recognition that make you feel you are more than a solitary traveler in a vast, mysterious world.

In catching up with old friends especially, I noticed our relationship deepen with understanding that hadn’t been there before. A lot of this had to do with the conversations I had had at Stanford, some of the first ones that felt like more than two simultaneous monologues. These types of conversations — which I continued in my hometown — allowed me to access truths I didn’t know I had within me and made me feel more comfortable with myself. Toward my family in particular, I noticed that I gained a deeper love for them once I began college. Strangely, this realization of the true, deep relationships I had back home also created pangs of regret, and I found myself wondering why I hadn’t appreciated these people until I was apart from them, why I’d spent a large part of high school feeling lonely and distant from the people around me. This is why I believe that the people who are able to genuinely see us are rare and precious, and they teach us something crucial about ourselves. In that sense, leaving home actually brought me closer to it.

So I return to Stanford and resume my first year here with a heart that is at once viscerally aware of the pieces left behind at home but also whole knowing that I have these people to whom I can return. I still miss the familiarity of people whom I don’t have to explain myself to, but I now know that home can also encompass those moments when a conversation with new friend can sing in my mind for days. There’s a lot I still don’t understand about what home means to me or how the world works. And perhaps I never will. Maybe the purpose of an education is not to decide the person I want to be, but to be more comfortable with the person I already am and the capabilities I already possess. For me, home can be a place, a feeling or even something as small as hearing my mother’s voice on the phone.


Contact Regina Kong at reginak ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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