Only a month gone, but plenty to reflect upon

Fall break has come and gone, meaning many of us have headed home, left the bubble and settled back into cozy beds, eating non-Sharples food. As I slipped into bed my first night home, pulling my comforter over my shoulders, I felt a rush of recognition. That simple act of getting in bed, with all its accompanying details — the slight dog smell, the weight of the blankets, the sudden warmth that contrasts with the cold hardwood floors — instantly brought me back to my life at home.

I was picking up right where I left off. This was the life I associated with high school. It felt like a million past nights; the feelings transcended time and space. Yes, I just spent a month in school, but if I closed my eyes in that moment, college seemed like a dream. My here and now was so familiar, ready to be linked with countless memories that were easily accessible and at the ready. The lives of my parents and sister seemed relatively the same as before. Work and school dominated the weekdays, and the weekends were always in demand, disappearing to viola concerts, sport practices, play rehearsals, errands and catching up on sleep.

Everything was at once comforting, familiar, nostalgic, but also stagnant. It was the same monotony and small-town life that I was eager to leave only a month before. Slipping back into this second skin, I had to wonder, is this what people aspire to? Do people want to settle into routine? Do people just want a life they can predict and depend on — a home to consistently return to, something unchanging in the midst of an accelerating world? It is evident from history that just because it’s the way things have always have been, “familiar” is not necessarily synonymous with “best.”

Change is such an essential part of life: jobs are lost and gained, the weight of death is only lightened by new births. Humans are creatures of habit, attempting to defy the natural order and attain peaceful organization. At Swarthmore, my week-to-week schedule varies so much depending on what events are going on. One Monday will never be identical to the next.

Going home is so strange in part because I am entering a sphere entrenched in routine. Not to say there are no variables to the weekly template — at home I made sure to change up my life, stave off boredom, go out and do things — but there is not the rich abundance of activities and the wild loveliness of college. College is a new place in which I’m a different version of myself. And going home makes this internal change salient.

Before beginning school, I had scoffed at the notion of an October break. A full week? So early! It seemed ridiculous. No other school had a long break, and after only a month, it seemed much too soon to come home. I wouldn’t even be homesick. Little did I realize that time has a very different way of passing at Swarthmore. One month is so miniscule when considering the four years spent at college, but it feels like eternity when you’re constantly busy surrounded by friends and fun. Swatties are accomplishing and learning more than they even recognize. It is a community that constantly stimulates, and the students rise to the occasion. In a place so rich with resources and draped in luxury, it isn’t a far stretch to say it’s “too good to be true.” Especially as a freshman with unprecedented independence and excitement, I can say that I love college. Yet, when days are so jammed with activity that a morning feels like a separate entity from an afternoon, a break is welcome.

Come October, students start to yearn for their hometowns. I was surprised by my own eagerness to return to the quaint 01036, suffering through a seven-hour bus ride that turned more into eight and a half — a small price to pay for a warm bear hug from my mom. Home is where the heart is. Home is not only Hampden now, though. Swarthmore, Mertz and 19081 are also home.

Each student has their pre-Swattie existence, a unique history that they bring to campus. These enrich everyone else’s experience at Swarthmore, but inevitably they will remain just that, stories that tell who they were and how they came to be, but don’t reflect who they are and who they will become. College is a limbo state, a festering of change, clashing of ideas, existential crises and late night quandaries. It’s odd seeing an upperclassmen in your hall dressed up to go to a job interview because that brings the real world so tangibly close.

Going home for October break leaves me incredulous about all I have done and learned in such a short time at Swarthmore. It is the shocking realization that I am already a different daughter than the one my parents dropped off at campus that first day. I am sucked so easily back into my home world, and it is instinctive to feel I’m back in high school, but I consciously know it isn’t so. College is not some wonderful world I imagined, it’s my new reality. A week is just enough to get my fill of familiar and then return to the home that I am building for myself 250 miles away. A home not yet well-known, but one that is entirely my own, that will bridge me to a future of familiars chosen by me, for me. In the day-to-day shuffle the collection of minute changes in how we think, interact and exist can be overlooked. Sometimes there is the “ah-ha” epiphany about our identities or opinions, but usually it is the everyday, constant yet subtle influences that over time reshape who we are. We go home and laugh when relatives exclaim, “You’ve changed so much, it’s been too long!” Little do we realize how accurate these statements are. When you are in a place  as progressive as Swarthmore and constantly challenging what you believe and who you are it doesn’t take long to begin transforming — as little as one month. College and home are worlds apart, separate families, but come together equally in importance and influence in what makes each of us who we are.

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