I had never dreaded going “home” for summer as much as I dreaded it this time around. In the past, immediately after packing up my luggage and selling my used textbooks, I would hop onto the earliest Megabus and look forward to a few weeks well spent with my high school friends catching up on gossip, binging on Johnny Rockets and failing at video games.
Last winter, my family decided to relocate to Lexington, Mass., a town where I knew no one besides my family. Though “home” usually meant a place of comfort and familiarity, this time around, it was a foreign place of seclusion and loneliness filled with too many late-night Netflix dates.
Looking back, however, home has always been a foreign concept to me. The most troubling question I get is “Where are you from?” at which I would hesitate, trying to decide between Lexington, Mass., my newest hometown, Shijiazhuang, China, my original hometown, Richmond, Va., my favorite hometown, Salt Lake City, my first American hometown and Chandler, Ariz., a random hometown I throw in there once in a while for laughs. Usually, I just stick with the answer that sounds right at the time.
To me, home is fluid. I enjoy that sense of comfort and familiarity when it is there, but I always know there will be a time to say goodbye. It is bittersweet, knowing that you will have to leave your favorite movie theater, favorite road and favorite people for the time being; however, there’s the thrill and excitement alongside the anticipation of finding new friends and trying out different restaurants at the destination ahead.
Sometimes, home isn’t synonymous with immediate family. When I left for Girls State — a high school leadership program — the summer before my senior year of high school, I was excited and nervous about being away from my family and living alone for a week. However, by the end of that week, I had found my new family with a new group of girls, and I had found my new home on the eighth floor of Curry Hall at Longwood University. Two years later, when I left my favorite hometown, Richmond, to spend three months working in China, I was again anxious about spending three months alone living in a hotel room in an unknown city. Once more, I quickly found my place among my ragtag family with the other interns, and by the end of the summer, I had grown so accustomed to the people who were once strangers that I couldn’t imagine leaving them.
Nowadays, however, when people ask me where my home is, I would not hesitate to call Penn my home. It is where I can find my favorite coffee shop, my favorite Mexican food cart, my favorite place to study and my favorite place to procrastinate on studying. Most importantly, I have found my family through my clubs, my sorority and the friends I always seem to bump into on Locust Walk who would just brighten up my day. It’s where I feel most comfortable right now, but that does not mean my old homes are less welcoming. Throughout these different places, the meaning of “home” to me has become more than just the physical. Home surpasses the rooms, walls and walkways that I traveled through. Instead, it’s made up of the people I love and the memories I make with them.
One of the main reasons I wanted to work in Philadelphia this summer was to still be able to live on Penn’s campus and have a sense of home. To my disappointment, with so many of the people I have shared memories with away at internships or study-abroad programs in other cities, I have found my home is simply not the same. But that’s OK, because like before, I’m sure I will be able to find new friends to explore Philly with and find new food trucks to splurge at.
Yuqian Li is a College junior from Lexington, Mass., studying economics and political science. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.