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What does homecoming mean to you?

small girl, big ideas

What does homecoming mean to you? For some, it signifies an American tradition of a semi-formal dance following a football game. For some, it’s the emotions associated with the complex matter of family or lack thereof. For others, it’s just an awesome Kanye West song. For me personally, it means returning to the temporary small-town charm of Bethany, Connecticut. Homecoming means miles of wooded landscapes and hills, the crisp chill of oncoming winter, and driving past the places I drove past millions of times during high school, the sweet tinge of nostalgia heavy in the air.

As soon as I come home, for better or for worse, I feel myself conforming into the usual comfortable habits of mine. I sit in front of my electric heater on my phone for a little too long in my room just like I did for so many nights procrastinating doing my homework or after coming back from swim practice. I wake up early but barely eat breakfast like I did in high school. I constantly make my room a mess by throwing piles of clothing on the ground every time I try to figure out what to wear. 

But I also feel myself conforming to old and comfortable habits within my relationships with people. I continue to reserve the reality of where I’m going out, with whom, and my feelings with my parents. I speak to my friends about memories of high school as we sit at the same restaurants or shops we always have. And afterwards, we drive on the highway, blasting our music with the windows down like we did almost every weekend because really, what else is there to do in a suburban town?

As I do all the things I once did every weekend throughout all of high school, I wonder to myself; although on the outside, I seem to be going through the same motions, am I any different on the inside? I left Bethany, Connecticut to change and grow into a different person, but when I am home, it almost feels like I am launched four months into the past. Being at college for only three months may not be enough time to radically change, but there must be some tangible change, right? After all, it has been the first period of my life in which I have really lived away from home and on my own. 

I know, upon coming to Duke, that I actually have already changed in significant ways. I have become more independent, more accountable, and more confident in myself and my role here as a Duke student. But do these changes, these growths of my character, simply dissipate when I come back to my hometown? Perhaps it’s not that they dissipate, but the overwhelming aura of comfort overwhelms these changes in my identity.  

In reality, it’s so easy to sink back into the comfort of my usual routines, who I was before, and the nature of the relationships I once had before. In a place where everyone knows your name, it feels natural to morph back into their expected version of you, before you took the risk and challenges associated with living miles away from home. 

Sometimes, this comfort can be dangerous, though. Being immersed in how my life used to be can put a rose-colored tint on this period in my life. The happiest memories always seem to surface the most quickly, and this can make me long for and desire to stay in the past, in the moments before I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. It can make me forget the allure of life here at Duke: yes, obviously stressful, but filled with unexpected and spontaneous moments of excitement, passion, new communities, and most importantly, new experiences. 

Homecoming is ultimately an enjoyable event for me; I get to see my friends, family, shower without shower shoes, and just breathe for a second. But the mentality of home, the versions of ourselves we are at home, have to stay home. In order to move on and grow here at Duke, I have to cut ties with a certain version of myself that is living in the past. After all, she will always be there when I come home again. 

Sana Pashankar is a Trinity first-year. Her column, small girl, big ideas, runs on alternate Fridays.

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