When I first moved into the dorms at UCLA last September, I felt so free. I spent my entire first year of college confined in the walls of my bedroom. At that point, I really needed a change of pace, not to mention time away from my overbearing parents. While I appreciate my family, an entire year and a half with only them for company made me itch to go out, meet people and find new experiences at UCLA.
Moving into the dorms felt like my first step.
I vividly remember my first night at the dorms after my parents left and before my roommates moved in: dancing to music like an idiot as I packed my things into my drawers and basked in the serenity that came with making my own choices. I thought to myself, What should I do tomorrow? I’ll go explore campus. No one told me what to do; I chose that myself, and even that simple choice felt so liberating. No one needed to know I would stay up until 2 a.m. that night simply to feel the freedom of having no curfew.
My first two quarters flew by.
For the next few months, I really did meet new people and found new experiences without missing home too much. I attended classes in actual classrooms, tried out food in Westwood a few times and hung out with my few friends at UCLA as much as I had the energy to. Every other week, I went back home to my parents and brother to catch up on life and run errands for my parents who worked during the weekend. Putting space between myself and my parents really helped our relationship. It felt just a little easier for me to talk to my parents about things whenever I came home or FaceTimed them during the weekend.
However, I felt something shift inside me near the end of winter quarter. As I looked around me, I realized that I rarely made real, lasting friends like I used to back home. As I ate lackluster Asian noodles in the dining halls, I remembered the taste of my mom’s authentic home cooked Asian food. I sat at my desk stressing over schoolwork and remembered the comforting feel of my bed at home that I would lie down on as I studied. Suddenly, the sheer size of UCLA felt less freeing and more daunting than ever. I couldn’t pinpoint what this feeling was at first. I just blamed it on the stress of school and the need for a break.
One weekend, I packed up my things to return to school as my brother stood by me in the living room. One minute before I left, the words slipped out before I could ponder them: “I kind of don’t want to go back.” When my brother asked why, I felt my throat close. I didn’t know how to answer.
Soon enough, I realized what I felt.
The feeling only got worse as I continued to look around me. People always seemed to find someone to talk to no matter where they went. Meanwhile, I often found myself as the wallflower sitting silently in the background, unable to muster up the courage to talk to anyone. I texted my best friend from back home with a feeling of emptiness lingering in my chest, hoping I could get an answer for why I felt this way. The more we talked, the more I thought about how much I missed her.
When I began to cry for the first time since I got here, I finally realized that I felt lonely. Most of all, I felt homesick. I missed home, even though I wanted space years before COVID-19. I missed knowing that I had a support system of friends back at home. I missed life when it felt so much simpler, so much lighter than the burden that college laid onto my shoulders. I missed the comfort of familiarity. As I continued to cry, I felt appalled. Homesickness felt like it hit me out of nowhere. I couldn’t believe it took me half a year at UCLA to start missing home when so many other people missed home within the first two months.
What could I do with this loneliness in my chest?
That happened a little more than a month ago. That night, I resolved to push through to the end of the year until I could return home again. This quarter, I joined a Southeast Asian student retention project to connect with other students in my community. Finding connection really helped me start to create my own feeling of joy and home here at UCLA. I’m also pushing myself to reach out to people back at home more. I call my best friend and my parents more often and hope to reach out to friends I don’t connect more with too.
Carving out a place for myself here still feels like a work-in-progress. As someone who still feels homesick, I’m not here to give you a cure-all for homesickness. I’m not a hypocrite after all. I’m here to tell you that if you miss home right now when you didn’t think you would, it’s okay. It doesn’t make you weak or mean that you broke some internal principle. It means you are grateful for your home and support system. You have people back at home who love you and who you love too. For some people, it takes leaving home for half a year to realize that and that’s perfectly okay.