Before Duke, I had never lived alone. The longest I had been away from my family was a few weeks at a journalism camp, as a high school freshman, and I called my mom thrice every day. And then, after what felt like two straight years of repeated lockdowns, I was boarding a flight to a different continent. From seeing them every waking minute to committing to seeing my family for less than two months a year, I decided that my ambition and the Duke name on my resume was worth missing everyone and everything.
I’m comfortable with the decision I made. Duke has given me everything I could have dreamed of and more. I have received more love than I ever deemed myself worthy of, I have learned more than I could have possibly imagined and I have pushed myself more than I can sometimes believe. I have nothing but gratitude. Except maybe, the smallest bit of regret.
Every time I go back home, I see a city and its people that are changing unbelievably fast, becoming almost unrecognizable. There are more skyscrapers than I remember. They’ve reconstructed the pavements I scraped my knees on. The traces of my childhood scattered in late-night storybooks are now replaced with my sister’s annotations on the pages. My younger brother has reached unprecedented new heights, metaphorically and literally. My grandfather’s voice is feebler. My mom and dad have grown a few more white hairs over the years. Every time I go back home, it feels like the city and the people I thought I had outgrown, have begun to outgrow me.
I used to envy my American friends (especially those whose families live on the East Coast) when they would have the option to go home for birthdays and for long weekends and sometimes just because. In contrast, I had a rather expensive 18-hour intercontinental flight to catch, and I could only do that twice a year. But in some ways, I think I am better off because when I catch my long, uncomfortable flight, I make a mental shift. In some ways, I pause my life back in Delhi and press play on my life in Durham. I can’t imagine the conflict of living at Duke knowing another, completely separate life exists a 5-hour drive away.
While little research exists across college years about homesickness, for first-year students at the very least, numbers range anywhere from 60% of people feeling homesick to as high as 94%. But I think eventually it stops being just about homesickness, and in some ways, evolves into being just the good old fear of missing out. The pain of missing out on the lives of the people you love moving on without you. People you have seen in relation to you so far (as your parents, your siblings), are now beginning to chart their own paths without you in the picture.
This is not an article to convince you that the opportunity cost is not worth it. There is a reason that after finishing this article, I won’t be looking up flights back home but instead setting an alarm for my 8:30 tomorrow morning — I can’t even convince myself.
All I am trying to convince you of, is that maybe it does not have to be this way. I can never live a dual life back in Delhi and here in Durham at the same time. But all I can do is check in, to make the effort to call my cousins at college and edit my sister's poems and occasionally gossip with my grandma. Is it enough? Probably not. But that is all I have for now.
I recognize that to grow up in a loving, caring family is something unfortunately not everyone gets. Words cannot express how grateful I am that I did. If you didn’t, as we grow up, I hope you find that love and care in your chosen families and the families you build. You are so immensely worthy of it.
The nurturing and affection of my family has made me everything that I am. Watching my dad cry for the first time in my life as he waved goodbye at the airport and how my mom went from being my parent to my friend, I recognize these as such unapologetic forms of love. I’ve spent my entire life demanding, receiving this love from them. It has been one of the great discoveries and joys of my adult life to stop seeing my mom and my dad as just my parents, but also as their own people with their own hopes and ambitions and flaws.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a parent who calls you to check on you, call them back. Tell them about how you may have flunked your midterm. Ask them about that presentation at work they were stressed about. Let them yell at you because you have not done laundry in weeks. Ultimately, we are all missing out on each other's lives; for better or for worse, outgrowing each other. Call them back. See if you can hold on, just for a little bit longer.
Umang Dhingra is a Trinity sophomore. Her column typically runs on alternate Fridays.
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