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Summer is a highly anticipated time as many of UPenn's undergraduate students can go back home after months away.

Credit: Jesse Zhang

Summer is an eagerly anticipated time for most students at Penn, but it holds a special significance for international students. For us, it is a real opportunity to return home after spending months away across the world from our families and friends. 

While reconnecting with your home is definitely exciting, it can also be a really weird experience. You go home and realize that everything is still the same as when you left, except for you. It is like time stopped in your home country, while your world kept turning, and you became a completely different person.

Living in a different country exposes you to new experiences and perspectives, completely shifting the way you see the world. By going home, you get to truly embrace the diversity of ideas you have encountered and integrate them to the perspective you have on the place that raised you. You get to bridge the gap between your past, your present, and your future.

For me, going home felt like traveling back in time to when I was in high school. Most of the people I graduated with a year ago stayed in our hometown and now go to the same university. Friend groups stayed intact, experiences were not new, and the conversations I overheard sounded exactly like the ones I was having a year ago with the people I have known since I was a toddler.

At Penn, I have been lucky enough to find myself in a friend group with people from different countries and backgrounds. Our conversations from the very beginning have always shown our different points of view, and even when we are talking about the most simple things, we are always learning something new from each other. So, coming home to the people that I grew up with who had almost identical life experiences felt monotonous.

Not only that, but I was also constantly missing the freedom I had at Penn. At home, I can’t leave whenever I want; I have to let my parents know what I am doing and who I am with. Plus, being in a small city means that when I leave my house, I will most likely run into someone that knows me  — and for some reason, that feels especially restrictive. 

This has been extremely emotional for me. I never thought that I would feel like I didn’t belong in my own home. I never imagined that walking around my neighborhood would be so boring, that hanging out with people I have had fun with for 18 years would be so dull, and that I would not find it exciting to go to the places I used to love. I could have never fathomed that I would miss college just as much as I miss home when I’m away.

I soon realized that while seeing my loved ones and being home made me happy, I was also mourning the person that I used to be. Looking at my room, which had not changed one bit, made me feel grief for the girl that used to fit in in this place.

Then, a few weeks ago, I found one of my old journals and decided to read some of the entries. In those, I talked about applying to college abroad, getting into Penn, and how excited I was to leave. At that moment I stopped mourning the old me. I realized that now I am the person I always wanted to be, because being away from home helped me learn a lot about myself. I had finally stopped relying on other people to dictate who I was and what I was supposed to do.

I had spent weeks believing that I had outgrown my hometown, and that there was nothing left for me here. The truth is, coming home is a beautiful, grounding experience: as you walk down familiar streets and talk to people that have known you for forever, you are reminded of the importance this place has had on making you the person you are today. You begin to appreciate all the personal growth and all the lessons you’ve learned while being away.

This whole experience redefined what "home" truly means to me. When you are away from your familiar support systems, you learn to seek comfort within yourself, and you find a sense of belonging in the world. Home becomes more than a physical place and turns into a feeling of security and personal growth. 

When returning to the place where you grew up, you are reminded that no matter how much you change, the core aspects of your identity will forever be connected to your hometown. You will always have a place there.

So, for the next few months, try your best to reconnect with your roots: revisit the places you grew up in, reconnect with old friends and family, do things that hold a sentimental value, and enjoy the familiarity that you cannot find anywhere else in the world. It is in this familiar place that you can truly get to celebrate your journey abroad and everything you have accomplished. 

ZARA TENA is a rising College sophomore studying political science from Puebla, Mexico. Her email is