Li: On homesickness

Grant Li, Columnist

Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that the older you are, the less homesick you’ll get. That being homesick is something associated with immaturity, being a little kid and that you’ll grow out of it eventually. But for me, it has been quite the opposite. I’ve been finding myself more and more homesick each time I leave home. 

The homesickness you experience when you’re older is not exactly the same as that of when you’re little. Homesickness as a child means being afraid. It’s sheer unfamiliarity from being dropped in an environment that feels like a foreign world. There’s just too much you don’t know. It’s animal instinct that makes you run back into your parents’ arms. When you’re older, it’s not unfamiliarity or foreignness that has you longing for home. Mature eyes are capable of assessing what’s around you. You know more than enough, you can fully understand the depth and nuances of the environment around you and that has you craving aspects of home.

It’s hard to parse out what my own feelings are because I’m very happy being physically at Northwestern, yet sometimes I just want to be at home with my family, congregated. Part of the function of the home as the nexus of family and abode united is that it’s anchoring. Physically, the home is unique. Perhaps part of growing up in an immigrant household especially is that the home is drastically different from anywhere outside your door. Ethnic tongues and cuisines are hard to replicate elsewhere, and that matters on a deep, sensual level. Home is not just distinct in that it is simply a different physical location, but also how it feels, the tastes, the scents, the languages you hear and the kind of people you see. Being deprived of what feels dear to the five senses will no doubt produce some desire for home.

Especially now that I’m at the age where I will be preparing to strike out on my own, I know the time I spend in my parents’ house is coming to an end. Each trip home is a reminder that there are only a few more school breaks until I have my own address, potentially far, far away. It’s like a countdown clock until I have to cut the last ropes loose and subject myself completely to the currents of the world — a task made more daunting by the pandemic and politics in our country.

At a more fundamental level, to me, the function of family is the commitment to grow older together (often backed by the tie of blood). Being away from home means severing to some degree that commitment to family. Lifetimes obviously don’t last forever, and there’s really nobody I’d rather spend it with than my family. But now everytime I return home, everyone has gotten a little older without me. My parents will have aged (like wine) a little, but I will have missed it. And I will have grown too, but my parents can also only catch glimpses of it. Rather than growing together, I only see frames of a reel that’s spinning way too fast while I happen to have my head turned. Altogether, I feel unmoored.

A lot of times, leaving home feels like riding out to sea in a tiny boat. The farther away from shore I get, the choppier the waves. The seasickness has me longing to be anchored in peaceful waters, moored back in safe harbor.

Grant Li is a Weinberg junior. He can be contacted at [email protected].edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.