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Finding home 350 miles away in Charlottesville

After being an out of state college student for the past year and a half, my perception of what home is and what it means to me has begun to change

However, time away from where I grew up, and more time in Charlottesville, is starting to make me realize that home is not defined by one place.
However, time away from where I grew up, and more time in Charlottesville, is starting to make me realize that home is not defined by one place.

My home had always been one place and one place only — Bucks County, Pa. The relationship I have with my home — one of feeling warm, safe, at ease and embraced — has only become amplified because of my time away from my Pennsylvania home and my family. Now, I am only in Bucks County for three and half months of the year, while the other eight and a half are spent in Charlottesville as a University student. However, time away from where I grew up, and more time in Charlottesville, is starting to make me realize that home is not defined by one place.

My little suburb of Philadelphia saw me grow from infant to late teenager — two houses and one town over those 18 years. Everything I really knew and felt familiar with was Bucks County. It’s where I went to school, formed relationships, grew up alongside my younger brother and started to form my identity. After every drive back from the airport, a dinner with extended family or just a long day out, coming back home always felt like a weight lifted off of my shoulders — a place where I could unwind and just be. Bucks County is my home because almost everything important in my life is there or has happened there. 

My connection to my home made it incredibly difficult to leave for first year. The summer of 2022 had slipped away, and every night I went to bed the week leading up to my first move-in felt like one day closer to having to leave the place — and people — that make me feel good. As the family Jeep Grand Cherokee left me at Old Dorms just over a year ago, I initially thought that I was substituting home in Pennsylvania for school in Virginia. The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving break when I’d go back felt like a slow, painful countdown. 

Breaks in the school year passed by too quickly. My glorious five-week winter break came and went. Thanksgiving and spring breaks — bookended by hours on Amtrak train rides — felt as if they hadn’t even happened. I wasn’t eager to go back to Grounds after breaks, because to me, going back meant once again leaving home for school. While I still enjoyed being on Grounds and hanging out with my friends, it didn’t compare to my actual home. My experience here in Charlottesville was one thing, and my home was another. The two did not overlap.

But something shifted this past summer. I realized something. 

Only about two weeks into summer break, I was surprised at how often I was thinking back on spending time with my friends in Charlottesville. I missed going on Ben & Jerry’s runs and going out to dinner on the Corner with the people I had grown close to over the past year. I even — shockingly — missed the collaboration with my physics lab group members and the very late nights spent on Discord trying to finish reports. I missed that sense of togetherness, whether it came about from having to get through tough homework sets or just wanting to catch up and debrief what was going on in our lives.

I realized that my definition of home exclusively applying to my home and family in Pennsylvania was not only too restrictive or narrow but also not true anymore. Though I do spend a majority of my year on Grounds, the long span of time I spend here is not what gives the University components of home for me. It’s the people and the shared experiences that make Charlottesville a home, as well as the places where these moments happen. 

Food truck Friday lunches with friends at the Amphitheater, dinner and study sessions at the Pav, doing homework in the Brown Library stacks — these places give me feelings of a new sort of home, one where I’m still studying and hanging out like in Pennsylvania, but with more new people and new experiences.

A main part of the reason I didn’t initially associate the University with home is because of how much work I have with classes in Charlottesville. I viewed going back to Grounds as going back to that intense environment with never-ending homework and exams and leaving home as leaving a place of serenity and peace.

But there was a time when my Pennsylvania home saw that same work as Charlottesville does now, and I still called Bucks County a home then. Everywhere I go in life is going to have some kind of work, but that shouldn’t preclude it from still serving as a place for calmness when I need it and a home I can call my own. Over time, I’ve also come to realize that I’ve found tranquility in Charlottesville, but in less obvious ways than how I enjoy it in my Pennsylvania home. Taking walks around Grounds, writing articles and spending time with friends bring me a new kind of peace, one that revolves around people, places, and experiences that don’t exist back in Bucks County.

I still felt like summer break had flown by this year, and it was tough to have to leave Pennsylvania, but I did so with a different perspective. This time, I was leaving one home for another, with different kinds of people and experiences in store for the semester. I was looking forward to seeing friends again and catching up at those places that give me a sense of home on Grounds. Though I may always have an affinity for my Pennsylvania home — it is where I grew up and where my family is — I know that I do have my own University family and home to return to in Virginia. 


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