Arriving back at Northwestern for a “round two” of college in September did not carry with it the familiar feelings of nostalgia and excitement I was hoping for.
Looking down from the window of my airplane at the thin strip of the Lakefill and all the twinkling tops of the Chicago buildings only a short distance from it, I actually felt like using the vomit bag they leave in the pouch of your airplane seat.
I left Northwestern in June feeling, at best, disenchanted. I broke my back in courses to do well, to go to parties and to make new friends. I followed all the steps to “do well” at college. My health and, more importantly, my happiness, were fighting back at me for exerting myself so far past my limits to fit the often-repeated chime of a “perfect Northwestern student”: over-involved, always excelling. Instead, I became its converse: over-tired, always stressed.
During the summer, I distracted myself from these scary feelings; I travelled to Spain with a wonderful group of people through the Study Abroad office, spent a lot of time doing simple things upon returning home like drinking coffee or walking around town with the family and friends I loved and even enjoyed a brief stint of luxurious home living. I tried to ignore the calendar when August began coming to a close. Why didn’t I feel this same type of love, support and satisfaction at school? What was I doing wrong? I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread I felt when my friends’ Snapchat stories began showing images of them going through PA training and moving into new apartments in Evanston. When texts from old friends at Northwestern began popping up in my inbox expressing their excitement about returning to campus, the best response I could muster up was a half-hearted “I’m excited to see you, too.”
And now, exactly a month after returning, here I am. So now the question remains: how does Homecoming tie into this? I think, beyond the crowning of Homecoming royalty in the parade, Saturday’s football game and alumni happily wandering around campus to re-live their college memories, there’s something really special about homecoming for everyone who chooses to sing the fight song, walk through the Arch that first day of Wildcat Welcome and come back every year in September. For freshmen and transfers, Homecoming is a celebration of your new home. For returning sophomores, juniors and seniors, Homecoming is returning to a place where you’ve built a history. It also, more importantly, means returning to be in a place that chose you, and that you chose back.
For me, Homecoming reminds me of the conscious choice I make when I wake up every morning, to remind myself of why I’m supposed to be at Northwestern. It’s falling in and out of love with this big, wonderful place. The best kind of love doesn’t just pull you in, it confuses you, and maybe scares the hell out of you sometimes. And maybe that’s just how I felt my first year here: scared as hell of everything this place brings with it – good and bad.
So I go to class, I learn new things and I make new friends. I also jump into Lake Michigan on a dare at midnight, I make the road trip to football games with my new friends and I never take for granted the adventures that Northwestern gives me despite the stress it can cause me. Every day, I try to be glad I came home.
It also helps that I have food trucks and a good football game to look forward to this week.