The sentimentality of visiting your home town might seem irreplaceable, but it's not. (Illustration by Yunyi Dai, Maryland Institute College of Art)

So You Went to College and Then Your Family Moved. Now What?

When your home base gets uprooted, it can feel like your childhood’s ended. It hasn’t.

College /// Thoughts x

When your home base gets uprooted, it can feel like your childhood’s ended. It hasn’t.

Nearing the end of my senior year of high school, my mother broke the news to me that, after over two decades and three kids in Connecticut, my father had found a job across the country in Phoenix, Arizona.

It made sense; I was the youngest child and I was, relatively, seconds from stepping out their door almost permanently. After the arduous task of getting three boys into college, they had more than earned the right to move toward their own self-actualization as opposed to their children’s.

While I was happy that they were pursuing something so novel at this stage in their lives, the move posed some unexpected complication into my own living situation for the coming years. While intimidating at first, suddenly having your home base essentially erased can be a profoundly educational experience. Here are a few of the lessons I learned as a result.

You’re Not Alone

Maybe it’s the fact that, environmentally, it’s starting to feel like the world is ending more and more with each passing week; maybe it’s just in the human genome at this point to pursue radically new climates and geography as the middle-ages come to their close; perhaps it is simply a product of the effort and sacrifice that comes with raising a family, but a lot of parents seem to experience some urge equivalent to flying south for the winter after the nest, or home base, is empty.

Whatever the true inciting force of this cohort’s migration, there wind up being a lot of wayward young adults in the exact same boat.

Returning to your home town after the move feels like switching to a standard transmission after driving manually for years. No matter how well you know the place, the second you lose your own backyard, bedroom and driveway the sentimental unfamiliarity of the area manifests itself very clearly.

The lack of geographical stability incited by families moving thousands of miles away from their original homes creates a previously inaccessible state of camaraderie between peers. You could wind up becoming good friends with someone whom you may not have even known in high school, simply as a product of kindred circumstance. You’ll explore new places and seek out revelatory experiences with the incentive of having your own bed to retreat into.

Being a Guest Takes Some Getting Used To

Inevitably, if you want to return to your home town for extended periods of time, you are going to wind up staying with a lot of people. Guest bedrooms and couches become your new benchmark for sleeping arrangements, and every kitchen and shower will feel foreign.

At some point — it did not take long for me — you might start feeling like a sponge, freeloading off the hard work and homemaking of another family. Spending extended periods of time in someone else’s home, and the transitive requirement of personal restraint out of respect for your hosts, can be an incredibly draining experience. While it takes practice, after a while the side effects start to fade.

No one is expecting much from a college-aged kid whose parents are anywhere from a few states to a continent away. Clean up after yourself, wear headphones, offer to set the table or help with other housework, but do not beat yourself up for needing a place to crash. You will have the opportunity to pay this good will forward at a later date.

Solitude Can Just Be Easier

Privacy is probably the greatest loss from no longer having a home base. Hours of your day will be spent relatively exposed, if not to the public then at least to a household or group of friends. A healthy practice in this situation is to actively seek out previously unconventional ways to have time to yourself. Even if you just go for a long drive or hike for an hour or so, these moments insight remarkable emotional rejuvenation when invoked at necessary times.

You walk a fine line when seeking out solitude. At some points, getting trapped in your own mind proves easier than you might expect. Not having a place in the area you grew up disorients you on so many different levels. Not everything changes at once, though, so do your best to focus on the remaining constants in your life and finding an emotional center will feel much more feasible. It also helps to keep the following tip in mind.

Home Is not a Specific Place

As cliché as the aphorism “Home is where the heart is” has come to be, the phrase does have some practical merit to it. Just because your house might no longer be in the town you spent a vast amount of your life in, and you may not be at all familiar with the lay of the land of your family’s new locale, that does not mean that you will never be at your home base again.

On the contrary, you will be exposed to the fact that home is not a place at all, but instead reveals itself to you via experiences and sensations that you may not have fully appreciated prior. Home could be a decent cup of coffee or a long drive; a good concert or a favorite book; a long conversation with an old friend or a picture that always makes you smile.

Seek it out or let it come to you, but before long you will find your home base again. Between the long days and uncertainty of being unsheltered, whatever you associate with home is not gone the second you box up your childhood bedroom. Be patient and keep an open mind. Your family moving away might turn out to be one of the greatest learning experiences you’ll ever have.

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