Lin: Why Northwestern isn’t necessarily home

Angela Lin, Assistant Opinion Editor

Like many Wildcats this past week, I left home to begin the academic year at Northwestern. I took off from Seattle with the words of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros serenading me over and over, “Home is wherever I’m with you.” Whimsical songs are excellent catalysts for nostalgia, especially when paired with a classic airplane panorama of (insert your hometown here).  Still, I had to question the novelty of this moment. Going back for my second year at NU, I wondered if I was finally happier to go than I was sad to leave.

My room back in Olympia, Washington is what you expect from a out-of-state student: a mess – an echo of teenage years ridden with wrinkled clothes pitched from a 29-by-14 suitcase. My belongings were everywhere. I had my bedding stored with UPS, a box with a friend in an off-campus apartment and a suitcase with another friend. I donated one-third of my things – clothes, furniture, things that did not make the shortlist of candidates for dust-collection – to Goodwill and gave another third to friends. My life, at least that quantified by sentimental possession, was downsized to the confines of a sparse wardrobe and a memory foam pillow.

The routine of moving out and going to school is uncomplicated, but the process is startling. Everything that is supposedly stable, from actual physicality to personal conception of home, is suddenly uprooted. In some respects this is exciting, but inevitably it’s disconcerting to have such chaos inflicted upon your life for the sake of a higher education. I spent my summer split between Evanston, Olympia and Seattle, so this idea is too familiar to me.

However, flying from one skyline at SeaTac to another at O’Hare, I realized that the conception of “home” as something that’s new, different and begging to be redefined, was hollow. Home is fluid and begs to be defined not by places or things, but with memories, ideas and people. While the latter entities are much more difficult to acquire than the former, it’s necessary to force yourself to embrace fluidity rather than definition.

The hustle of college is similarly familiar, from the pursuit of friends, home, and major, to the occasional existential crisis. It’s inevitable to yearn for stability and assurance – assurance that NU is home, that journalism is the right major – but it’s easy to let a yearning for definition deviate into a fear of ambiguity. After all, at the end of the day, your suitcases are still packed, friends and family gone. So, external or internal, it’s oftentimes the case that we’re pressured to be satisfied and secure. However, it’s important to embrace the unknown – even the possibility of dissatisfaction – by ignoring the need to fill the suddenly blank slates of friends, home and identity. Although a floppy pillow and the contents of a cardboard box are less reassuring than a house and a city, in the long run, comfort in ambiguity is more sustainable and satisfying than empty definition.

Angela Lin is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].