Redefining the definition of home as a college student

By Jen Smith
November 1, 2001

Last week sometime between my 8:15 on Tuesday morning and my 12:30 Thursday afternoon, my cell phone rang. Having the modern day luxury of caller ID, I knew immediately that it was my best friend from home. I hadn’t seen her in months.

“Come out here this weekend. I won’t take no for an answer.” Having had one of the historically worst weeks of my life at that point I was up for a change, even if it meant a five-hour drive back home. “All right.” was the first response that came to mind. “I’ll be there on Thursday.” That answer surprised even me. I usually wasn’t up for the long drive back to Pittsburgh, and especially in the midst of my midterm exams and reports, this trip was if nothing else, poorly timed.

I’ve found however, the best ideas in life usually come out of nowhere at all, and so despite the urging of my roommate to stay, I grabbed a suitcase, changed the oil in my car, put on my sunglasses and was on my way.

I wasn’t five minutes on the Pennsylvania turnpike when my phone rang again. This time I found it was my agitated mother on the other end. “I hear more from your friends than I do from you. Are you coming home?”

“No mom,” I sighed. “I’m going to see Danielle at school.” She sounded particularly wounded by this comment. “But Cal-U is only 20 minutes from the house. I haven’t seen you since July, Jen. Please stop by.” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see her. I miss my family very much, but I could tell already that this weekend was not going to be the relaxing good time I had hoped for. I promised I would come home and hung up the phone with an “I love you. See you tomorrow.”

Another hour down the highway brought another call. I was by this time preparing to lob my cell phone right out of the car window onto the nation’s highway. “Hello? Yes, I’m coming home. Homecoming is this weekend, huh? Really? Amanda I haven’t been back to the high school since graduation and I.alright. I’ll call you when I get in tonight. No I’m staying at Dan’s, at Cal. Yep. Alright, bye.”

I arrived at California University of Pennsylvania a long five hours later and got out of my car happy to have hundreds of miles between myself and Cabrini College for a change. I hugged my best friend, put down my stuff and proceeded to call everyone I knew from school to tell them I’d arrived safely.

“Come home.” Are you kidding? I had just arrived and already they were asking me to come back? I said, “I miss you already.” I explained to Danielle that everyone wanted me to go back home.

“You are home,” she said, and shuffled me into the kitchen. By this point my weekend hadn’t even started and I was ready to pull out my hair.

I guess I never really thought about my definition of home.I refer to my best friend’s house as my home during the summer, because it is where I usually sleep. I refer to Cabrini as home because it is where I live all year, and as for my parents’ house in Pittsburgh, I grew up there. It is my home. Or is it their home? It has been over a year since I lived there, and I may never live there again. So what exactly does that make it to me?

It wasn’t until I got to college that I was ever forced to consider the meaning of this complicated word. Home I’ve found is not necessarily the place where your family lives. It is definitely not the place where you grew up, and home is certainly not the only place where the heart is. So what is it?

Well if I learned anything from my trip last weekend, it is the answer to this question. I went to my parent’s house, in the town I grew up, to the bedroom I lived in for 18 years, to the family I love. I was happy to be there, and happy to leave at the end of that day. I visited with my high school friends, in the houses I remember, driving around in the cars that have always driven us around. I was happy to see them, and happy to leave at the end of the night. And at the end of the weekend, a few sad goodbyes and a very long drive, I found myself coming up the main entrance of Cabrini College.

I suddenly had a feeling unlike any I’d ever experienced driving through those iron Gates at the end of my weekend. I felt a sense of belonging. This is where I wanted to be. This is the home I have chosen. Although it may not have the history of my bedroom, the fun memories of my town, or the familiar faces of the people I grew up with, it has a whole new scenery, an incredible group of relatively new friends, and a promising future down the road of my life. And as I was driving that slow 15 mph up Cabrini’s windy driveway my cell phone rang for the last time that weekend. This time it was my roommate. “I miss you,” she said. “When are you coming home?”

A smile came across my face as I turned left onto Residential Boulevard past the dorms I had been sick of seeing for so long. I felt an overwhelming sense of comfort fill my heart. I beeped at some people I recognized walking past House one and turned up the driveway of House three. All that I could say in response to that question was, “I am home.”

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Jen Smith

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