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Column: Re-invent your definition of home

20240203 - UNC MEN’S BASKETBALL VS. DUKE
UNC fans cheer following the men’s basketball team's victory against Duke at the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. UNC beat Duke 93-84.

With final exams and the last day of class approaching quickly, the most popular phrase on campus right now is “I can’t wait to go home.”

I throw the word “home” around a lot — I use it when I’m leaving campus, but I’ve also caught myself using it when I’m in my hometown and refer to coming back to my dorm. And so I’ve come to realize: I have no idea where “home” actually is.

By definition, home is a place that one returns to, usually a permanent residency. Unlike a physical house, I perceive home as more of a metaphorical place associated with feelings of nostalgia or fond memories. Some come from stable, secure homes while others come from toxic ones. However, prior to college, most people have some sort of identification of home, whether it be positive or negative.

The transition from high school to college is a process of upheaval and drastic change. At first, living in a dorm away from family and childhood friends at the beginning of college can make a hometown seem like the only type of home. But once new memories are made on campus and emotional ties are fortified, college can start to feel that way too. It becomes more familiar than the childhood house that begins to seem like it’s slowly capsizing the longer you’re away. This is when home can start having many different associations.

A study from Mount Holyoke College found that students who had moved many times before college had an internalized sense of home that helped them easily find comfort in new environments. For a lot of college students, having multiple or complex definitions of home can cause anxiety. Or, feeling like you have no definition of home at all can be just as distressing.

However, an evolving sense of home doesn’t have to be a source of affliction. Going to college is one of life’s first major transitions. In a time of self-exploration and personal discovery, not having a clear label of home is okay. Learning how to manage these anxieties and finding support in new places is a skill that will only help in life’s later stages of change.

The song “Home” by Phillip Phillips explains how we can make new places feel like home. “Home” by Daughtry describes home as any place that fosters a sense of belonging. In their song “Home,” Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros say home is not always a place — it’s “whenever I’m with you.” Finding home in many different places and even within other people is one of the best ways to manage these sense-of-home struggles and anxieties.

For me, home is a Waffle House in Charlotte. Home is at Davis Library in the wee hours of the night. Home is being with my friends in my hometown’s Cook Out. Home is in the Dean Dome and Raising Cane's and Hinton James Residence Hall. Home is my childhood playground in Ohio.

Redefining and rediscovering home is a normal life change that should be embraced. It doesn’t have to cause anxiety and should instead be viewed as a healthy metamorphosis. We should try to find a home in all aspects of our lives, instead of just seeing it as a traditional, physical house or apartment or dwelling.

If you come to realize that you don’t know where home is either, start searching for it in unconventional places. Try to find it in your favorite restaurant, on a nostalgic street or within your old place of work.  Look for it when you sing the alma mater, drink from the Old Well and yell “TAR” at Duke fans. If you probe hard enough, home can be found in the cracks and crevices of any place.

@sydneyj_baker

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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