As many students spend most their time away from where they grew up, the idea of “home” becomes more and more complicated.
Sat at the family dinner table on the 24th of December, I push my face into my palms in frustration for what feels like the 50th time someone made the conversation political. In the background I hear yet another damn Christmas song. It’s all getting a bit much for me really. Christmas is a strange time to be a student living away from your childhood home. Coming back never quite feels the same, and being away doesn’t exactly feel better.
For a lot of people, Christmas isn’t all Ho Ho Ho and merry festive cheer. The forced atmosphere that demands joy and happy emotions isn’t something unhappy people enjoy faking, on the contrary the feeling of obligation to be happy can have the reverse effect. Especially if you’re somewhat of a general cynical grinch (like the author of this article), Christmas is often at best uncomfortable. A lot of that is to do with visiting your childhood home, so tightly associated to Christmas.
I’ve found there to be a frustratingly large amount of truth to the cliché that the grass is greener on the other side. At university you’ll find yourself missing what you may still consider “home”, but the minute you arrive there you may realise that it no longer feels like home. Your old routines and habits no longer matter, the owner of the corner shop you frequent doesn’t recognise you anymore, your teenage room feels like a relic of pubescent naivety you’ve outgrown. Perhaps the most heartbreaking part is what can happen with your teenage friends. As you grow up and change, so do they, and it’s not rare that they change in a completely different way, rendering your friendship somewhat awkward and unsustainable. That’s not to say that’s always the case, but I am sure this applies in at least some cases to every university student that moves away from home.
Your childhood home can give you a sense of structure-after all, it is harder to sleep in until 3pm and live off a diet of crisps and fried chicken when you’re fully aware that your family is judging you and you feel the need to convince them you have indeed become a proper adult. After all, part of the reason most students move away is to find some more independence by diving into what is essentially a whole new life.
Being a student is about significantly more than earning an academic diploma. It’s the quintessential transitional period for many. During student life, you learn not only about your subject but also about how to handle everyday life in a functional and (relatively) healthy manner without the support (as well as restrictions) of family guidance. You have the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. The opportunity to redefine yourself not only in the eyes of others but also in your own. More or less everything in your life is thrown in the air, ready to be reformed and reinvented.
As one might expect, this opportunity also comes with a more problematic and difficult side. This lack of established foundation shapes an insecurity, as no one knows where it all may lead. Ask yourself this, how many people do you know that know precisely where they will be and what they will be doing in merely a couple of years? This insecurity makes it difficult to fully acknowledge and accept your adopted university city as a real “home”. Why even get settled in and build foundations when it’s impossible to say that you’ll still be there in the near future? It is exactly this sense of uncertainty that makes the feeling of alienation from your childhood home so very scary. Every man and woman seeks to have a home, a safe haven of security, and during student life old havens seem to evaporate while new ones always seem uncertain and prone to fall apart at any time. What’s new is scary and what’s old isn’t the same, a perpetual catch-22.
And yet, after all my complaining and self-absorbed whining about how hard it is to return to a loving family and a safe home, as I sit here writing this article in my flat-share in East London I find myself yearning to be back where I was two weeks ago. I want to be getting annoyed at the incessant repetitive Christmas music, I want to be getting passionately frustrated at someone for bringing up politics at the family table, I want to be sat in my room looking up at my teenage-boy-cliché Scarface poster. In a way, that feeling and that desire will never go away and where I grew up will always remain home. I also know that my new home likely won’t last, at least in the way it is. But, for now, the best I can do is to embrace these supposedly greener pastures and make the very most of where I am. That’s all any of us can do until we work out where we truly belong.
Image: Jim Larrison/flickr