I never expected to be homesick. I was that person in the Golden Bear Orientation group scoffing a bit on the inside at the idea that I would miss home, that moving to college across the country would hit differently than a long summer camp similarly far away. But sure enough, about a month into my first semester, I was sure I was on the verge of a breakdown.
Homesickness wasn’t what I thought it would be. It wasn’t missing my mom’s cooking and my cats or wanting to go flop down on my younger sibling’s bed just to be annoying. It was a persisting feeling of disquietude: the nagging voice in my head telling me that I was just wasting money by going to UC Berkeley, that I had no idea what I was doing here anyway, and that I needed to just go home to curl up in my bed and never emerge again.
I tried my default avoidance mechanisms — watching YouTube videos, reading and playing games on my phone — but it wasn’t enough to get me out of my head. I needed to talk to someone in order to have some reassurance from another person that I wasn’t making a terrible decision by going to UC Berkeley, and that I shouldn’t just move back home.
I didn’t know who to call. The time difference makes things a bit more difficult, and neither my mom nor my younger sibling was picking up the phone. My best friend had been having a rough time lately too, and I didn’t want to add to the stressors she was already dealing with. It was too early for me to have made any close friends at college, and I couldn’t think of anyone I could call back home who would answer the phone.
So, I went outside. I sat in the courtyard of Unit 1, staring up at my window on the seventh floor of Putnam Hall, trying to quiet my mind for an hour. It didn’t work. I wandered into the lobby, waiting for the elevator. Idly, I flipped through social media apps. Twitter would just bring me down more, and Facebook I try to avoid if possible; but on Snapchat, one of my most recent snaps was to my cousin. He’s one of my closest cousins and one of the only extended family members I talk to regularly.
We had always horsed around and hung out together, but we only really started talking during a family reunion when I was in seventh grade. Since then, more and more, we would escape to a quiet corner and talk about anything and everything – politics, music and life. Before I left for college, I asked him to keep in touch, and we exchanged snapcodes.
And there I was, in the lobby of Putnam Hall, sitting on a bench outside the elevator with my phone in my hand and my cousin’s snap in my recent messages. So I swiped over to the camera, put a halfhearted smile on my face and sent it captioned with a simple “Hey, what’s up?” A minute or so later, my phone buzzed with a response. He sent back a grainy photo, grinning at me, saying that he was just hanging out and asking what was up with me. I took a deep breath, replying, “Not much, just feeling a bit homesick.”
The photo he sent back was equally grainy, but captioned much more seriously. While I can’t remember his exact words, I can remember exactly how they made me feel. My cousin told me everyone back home cared about me and missed me too. But most importantly, he was proud of me, and it shone through in his words, reminding me that I had a family back home that would support me, and that I would always have someone in my corner.
My insecurities and longing for home didn’t just fade away, but my cousin helped remind me why I came to UC Berkeley and why I had traveled so far away from my family. I wanted to branch out, learn more and bring new experiences back home with me. I wanted to push myself to reach my full potential as a student and a scholar. And I was lucky enough to have a family that was proud of me for doing so and willing to support me in my efforts.
I sent my cousin a message on Snapchat tonight to let him know I was writing this piece. I told him he didn’t know how much it meant to me that he was there for me. He said, “any time.” The best part is, I know he meant it.