When the plane I boarded in London landed back in Chicago on July 29, it was as bittersweet a moment as any.
After three weeks in the heart of one of the liveliest cities in the world, I was prepared to return to my hometown in the Chicago suburbs.
At the same time, though, as we flew over the familiar sights of suburbia on our way back to O’Hare airport, I found myself yearning to be back in London. As if that weren't crazy enough, I had reached the point in the summer where I was getting eager to come back to Ball State.
This led me to a realization; all three of these places have served as “home” for me in some sense over the past year.
All this led me to wonder; what is “home” anyway? There are so many different ways to think about it and there isn't really a “correct” way of going about answering the question.
Is it where you’ve made your best memories? I treasured every moment of my time in Britain, from getting to see Parliament in action to seeing shows in the West End, to visiting the wondrous landscapes of Wales, but I don't know that I would call it “home” now.
Though the memories will remain, the trip is long over.
Is it where we can find the people we know? Chicago and Ball State certainly qualify under this category, thanks to family and my established group of friends, respectively, but I still hesitate to settle for this definition.
Is it a state of mind, then? I would argue I had a home in London for those three weeks. By the time the trip ended, I felt I knew the area of London I lived in like the back of my hand.
Sometimes, it takes more time to adjust to that mindset, though. Heck, I didn't even call Ball State “home” for the first time until well after Thanksgiving break last year.
Chicago has been my home since I was born, but as I’ve found a growing sense of stability here, I’ve come to truly consider Ball State as a second home.
That fact alone says a lot about how my mindset has changed over the past year, and I think in that sense, my trip to London becomes a sort of link between my past and my future here at Ball State. The emotions I experienced, the highs and the lows of the trip, the things I got to see, I think all of these can connect in some way to the experiences I have had and will have here.
When I moved into my dorm for the first time last fall, it was a prolonged affair. My family and I took our sweet time moving everything into my dorm, trying to avoid the inevitable moment when I would finally have to be left on my own.
Bizarrely enough, those feelings came into play at the opposite end of my trip to London. Here’s the difference; when I moved in last fall, the goodbyes were only temporary. Even if it stung a bit to say goodbye, I knew I’d be back in Chicago soon enough.
London, meanwhile, presented about as difficult a goodbye as you can get. It wasn't just saying goodbye to the friends I’d made and the surroundings I’d gotten used to -- it was also contending with the prospect that I may never get to see London again.
Who knows what the future holds, though? Pessimism may prevail in the moment, but it’s best to not let it dominate what you do going forward.
I think that thought was what got me through moving out of Dehority at the end of last spring. My parents had already come in before finals week to bring most of my things back to Chicago, leaving me with just what I needed to survive that last week. When that was over, I was quick to grab the rest of my things and head back to Chicago.
There simply wasn't much for me to be sad about; I knew I’d be back in the fall, and I knew I’d still be coming back here for at least the next three years!
The lesson of pessimism did take some time for me to learn, though. I remember struggling in my first semester here, not because of classes or my workload, but because I felt alone. Sure, I knew people, but I wasn't finding anywhere I particularly fit in. It was like high school all over again.
I persevered, though. I eventually found what I was looking for, and I couldn't be happier now.
Even so, loneliness showed its face again while I was in London. Try as I might, I just wasn't able to find a group I belonged with. This time, though, I tried to look at the situation from a different perspective. I wasn't going to let any bad emotions get me down and ruin possibly the only three weeks I’d ever get in London.
Even in the face of despair, I chose to make the most of the time I had. I got out of my rut and out of my dorm and made some memories I won't be forgetting anytime soon.
It taught me a lot about independence. Studying abroad can actually end up being one of the most liberating experiences possible. It cuts you off from much of what you know about the world. Once you get past that realization, it’s just you, where you are, and whatever you want to make happen.
It really forces you to come into your own.
Thanks in part to that lesson, it was a rather different affair when I arrived at Dehority last month. This time, it was just me and a few of my things to get me quickly settled in.
It was a fresh start in much the same way moving in the year before had been, but my family and I had already been through all of the emotions associated with going off to college once; there was really no need to go through it again.
Frankly, why should there be? Times change, and we change as people, too. Next year is probably going to be quite different from the year before, and the year after that will be different even more so, but that is why I am here in the first place.
I came to college to expand my horizons, to grow, to change as a person. If life stays the same year after year, then I'm not doing what I came here to do.
I admit I do look upon my past with perhaps a bit of longing. I sometimes wonder if things could be going better than they are, and every so often, I get the feeling I’d give anything just to be back in London for just one more day.
In the end, though, I also accept that whatever happens down the line will be worth it. I don't know what’s yet to come, but with a bit of luck, it’ll be worth the wait.