When is U.Va. supposed to feel like home?

Finding a home away from home can be a difficult and lengthy process

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Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

I am reluctant to admit that I have spent the vast majority of my free time not thinking about life back in my hometown of Springfield, Va. There is honestly way too much to do at the University — almost as if every day has been designed to keep newcomers as busy as possible. As a first-year still learning the ropes in this unfamiliar environment, I have sat through interest meeting after interest meeting, determined the best time to visit the dining halls for my fifth snack of the day — curse you, unlimited meal plan! — and aimlessly wandered around Grounds like an eager tourist checking off the next item on my University bucket list. 

It is because I am so hopelessly busy — I have reasoned to myself — that I simply cannot find the time to reminisce about binging TV series with my father, daydream about my mother’s home-cooked meals or wonder how my younger brother is adjusting to the new school year. Aside from the occasional phone call or text message, it’s been difficult to focus my thoughts on home. That doesn’t mean I feel guiltless for this lapse in my day-to-day thoughts, but it does underscore the sheer amount of choice that thrives in this new living space. There is certainly an excess of things to discover and explore here. For many first-years like myself, it is as if the University is some bizarre amusement park, only with food trucks in place of cotton candy stands and bustling lecture rooms instead of long lines in front of Space Mountain.

And yet, I have found that just because I don’t think of home often does not mean that I do not feel its absence. I pass by the lounge room on the floor of my dorm and think of the TV shows I have put on hold since arriving here. I stare at my plate in any one of the dining halls and find myself craving traditional Korean dishes like kimbap and miyeok-guk. I glance at University merchandise — prevalent everywhere I go — and remember that its iconic orange and blue colors are the exact same as the ones at the high school my brother attends.

Though the University keeps me so busy, I can’t seem to escape the lingering feeling that something is missing — and I know for a fact that I am not alone in this. Homesickness, after all, is a common affliction at universities, especially among first-years. 

It feels strange to say that I am homesick. During the summer, I eagerly anticipated stepping foot onto Grounds, breathing in what I imagined would be the smell of freedom and freshly-cut grass. I didn’t think I could feel homesick — especially when my family is always a phone call or text message away.

Homesickness is not — and arguably has never been — the sort of sickness that makes you dread the sun and tremble in the night, like many novels make it out to be. It is rather a nostalgic sigh in a silent room. It is the feeling of ending a call with a beloved family member or thinking of a scene so domestic and familiar it makes your heart glow, only to snap back to the present and find yourself in a room that you cannot yet call your own.

I’m not saying that I’ve dreaded, or even remotely disliked, my time at the University. I love Charlottesville. It is a place filled with people to meet, places to visit and schoolwork to complete — although perhaps that last part isn’t so great. However, the University doesn’t feel so much like home right now as it does a place of distractions. It’s as if I’ve wandered into a summer camp, an arena intended for having fun and making memories, but not a place of permanence. It simply hasn’t sunken in that this is supposed to be my home now — the realization of this fact is almost surreal. 

I wonder if that perception will change or if I will become more comfortable within this bustling community as the weeks turn to months and the months eventually to years. I certainly hope so. Ask me again in a few months how things have turned out, and we’ll see where life on Grounds has taken me. In the meantime, if the University really is some sort of academic amusement park, then I intend to hop right onto the tallest roller coaster in sight and learn all that I possibly can about Charlottesville and its many nooks and crannies. Who knows? There may even come a day where I find myself longing for a different sort of home — one with crisp brick architecture, a gorgeous building with a domed roof and the prettiest Lawn I’ve ever seen.

Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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