On going home and coming back

From the moment I first visited campus during my junior year of high school, Swarthmore felt like home. Standing on Magill Walk, I felt an inexplicable wave of comfort and familiarity. I still do. During the stress of moving in and saying good-bye to my family, I was comforted by the fact that my room number is the same as my state’s area code, 302.

Living at Swarthmore has muddled the lines of what “home” really means. I feel at home in my dorm, in McCabe, and in all the buildings in between, yet I still went home for break.

Everything seemed to be just the way I left it, and my home life picked up right where it left off. Yet, things felt different. The music on the radio when I drove was different, and I walked out of my house without car keys — a mistake I only made when I first started driving — more than once. My high school, which saw both the best and worst moments in my life, no longer belonged to me, but was more than welcoming when I came back. My teachers lit up when they saw me, my principal hugged me and asked if high school had prepared me for Swarthmore, and I felt almost unnatural talking to my high school friends. I realized that making a home for myself in college meant leaving behind part of what makes my hometown “home”, and part of the person I was when I lived there year-round.

I realized that the person I am in college is vastly different than the person I was before Swarthmore. I have polished some of the rough spots of myself along the way. I’ve left behind some of the stress of navigating social life with my peers and picked up a sense of camaraderie around the college’s academic pressure. Here, I am not the best at everything I do, and that fact has forced me to work harder and be better. I have had to take stock of the ways in which I have changed and grown. I’ll never outgrow my hometown, but I am fundamentally different from when I left. I’ve become an adult here, and sleeping in my childhood bedroom didn’t change that. When I was home, however, I found myself doing the same things I always did growing up. I did the same chores, went to the same pumpkin patch, and ate the same foods, knowing that I was now doing these things as a grown-up. I found myself in somewhat of a surreal paradox between being home, and being away from my home.

The shift in what home felt like lies not only in myself but also in the differences between Swarthmore, Pennsylvania and Dover, Delaware. Going home meant readjusting to the way the world works in my home and my hometown. Not only was I responsible for my usual chores and odd jobs, but I now had to deal with a far less homogenous political spectrum. I played in a wiffle-ball tournament to raise money for several charities at my high school the last Saturday of break, and I was shocked to see a team of high school seniors wearing matching Trump shirts. I asked myself how they could dare to openly support a candidate that has publicly mocked people with disabilities. Worse still, they wore them at a fundraiser that benefited organizations, including Special Olympics, that was in honor of a friend of mine with disabilities who passed away over the summer. I realized that I’ve been spoiled by being surrounded by peers who view the world similarly to me, but the world outside of Swarthmore is different. On campus, Donald Trump is disliked by liberals and conservatives alike, but at home, the local people believe in his agenda. The stark divide between college life and the so-called “real world” has manifested itself to me in the political sphere.

The cultural differences between my hometown and my new college home are stark. At Swarthmore, I sometimes desire more diverse opinions, and at home, I miss the liberal haven of our progressive institution. Navigating my hometown after taking on a new home means I was somewhat of a guest. Seeing the world I grew up in through a different lens meant seeing myself through a different lens. The realization that my sense of self changes depending on which home I am in caused me to reflect on who I truly wanted to be. I thought about my values and the things I took for granted, both at home and school. I sometimes took my parent’s love for granted, and coming home from school after nearly two months away made me realize how amazing it is to have people who love me unconditionally. At school, I take my independence for granted, and going home, I realized how much power over myself I have at Swarthmore. Going home and coming back showed me the best of both worlds, as well as the things I find uncomfortable about both places. I may never be simply a Delawarean again, but Delaware will always be a part of me.

Laura Wagner

Laura '20 is from Dover, Delaware. She is in the honors program studying political science and economics. Outside of the classroom and the newsroom, her interests include running, politics, and really good books.

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