Thrive on Campus//

Refrigerators and Change: On Coming Home

Having lived in the same neighborhood for over a decade, it is strange to discover home as a concept that is newly transient, shifting.

Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

The moment I stepped onto the musty jet bridge that leaned against the airplane, I felt oddly composed. This November, I had flown back to Maryland to spend Thanksgiving with family. The potent combination of homesickness and my limitless capacity for crying seemed to predict an airport tearjerker. And yet, the whole affair, from reuniting with my dad at baggage claim to driving home in the family Honda SUV, was rather anticlimactic.

My parents had put up a glittery “WELCOME HOME” banner, which greeted me in all of its capital letter glory. And indeed, with my younger brother William boasting about his newfound superiority in the height department over yours truly and my parents bombarding me with questions about everything from classes to roommates, it felt familiar and comfortable.

But that evening, after everyone else had gone to bed, I stayed wide awake, ambling aimlessly about the house. Everything was achingly familiar. In my absence, however, the house I grew up in clued me in on the fact that life has moved on. Crimson poinsettias now spruced up the usual array of houseplants. The living room hosted a new whiteboard with William’s scrawled solutions to math problems (ah, I thought, how blessed I am to never have to suffer through geometry again). I meandered into the kitchen. Possessed by the muscle memory of flinging open refrigerator doors in the midst of after-school snack raids, I peeked inside the fridge. Only then did I cry.

In retrospect, the entire scene seems a little absurd and comedic. Even now, I’m still not quite sure why fresh produce tugged at my heartstrings. Perhaps it was seeing the ingredients for the holiday foods we would always eat: wrappers for my dad’s pork spring rolls, the homemade mix for nian gao ready to be baked. Or maybe it was the little changes in their food selection that, however insignificant, immediately caught my attention (since when did they start drinking soy milk?). Or perhaps it was the simple relief of being back home.

Five days before Christmas, I found myself boarding a plane bound for Maryland. My arrival was warmly greeted with similar levels of fanfare, and I was thankful for the respite from Thayer’s communal bathrooms. This time, I did not cry. After a week of waffling in suburbia, I longed to be back in Cambridge. I missed the campus and the people who made campus home. The mini fridge my roommate and I shared had harbored mementos of fall semester. The pilfered provisions from Annenberg, the pint of ice cream from a particularly tough day,  and the neglected restaurant take-out cartons all carry with them vivid and new memories.

Right now, I can only say that I feel a little ungrounded. Having lived in the same neighborhood for over a decade, it is strange to discover home as a concept that is newly transient, shifting. In Maryland, I miss Massachusetts. On campus, I feel pangs of homesickness. I imagine myself to be an wanderer traversing two worlds, animated by restlessness. As I travel, I am increasingly cognizant of this threshold between my two homes: one the backdrop of my childhood, the other a nascent adventure. I’m learning to appreciate this liminal space. Maybe I’ll invest in another mini fridge here.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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