Out-of-state students define belonging
Students from Georgia, Spain, and South Korea describe their experiences living so far from home. | Illustration by Anna Warner/THE CHIMES
The traditional college student moves in between their dorm room and home approximately 12 times over the course of four years. That is a lot of packing, and frankly a lot of adjustment for out-of-state students.
Different Definitions of Home
In the midst of students’ lives they are thrown into a community of people who have different definitions of home. For some, home is comfort and safety. For others, the concept is wrapped up in the perception of the self, and an extreme understanding of change. Sometimes “home” is making sure all your stuff can fit in four cardboard boxes or less, or when Sunday means a different church every week.
Michelle Lee, freshman nursing major, cannot say she has grown up in one state, let alone one culture. She has settled in several different states, including Tennessee, Georgia, many cities in southern California and South Korea, throughout her life. While she knows “home” is not for the majority of students what it is for her, her understanding is no less legitimate.
“I feel like home is where I am at that point. So I think I learned how to make the place that I am my home,” Lee said. “And then of course I get kind of homesick of Korea, or like America when I’m in Korea, because I move around so much, it’s just become second-instinct to try to make wherever I am homey.”
Important Aspects of Home
For Lee, focusing on the place where she currently lives characterizes her definition of “home.” However, for Georgia-native Christina Ekstrom, freshman elementary education major, home is categorized by comfort and safety. To Ekstrom, the most important aspect of home is having people who love you surrounding you.
“Now, home is where the people I’m close to are,” Ekstrom said. “The first time I went home, I was so sick of school, and it was a lot, and I actually came back to school and I was like ‘This is home,’ so it was very interesting. Being able to go home and come back, it really establishes it isn’t just going home for me because coming back is home as well.”
The confusion of packing up belongings time and time again brings out-of-state students to a crucial point of tension. Their families continually call them back to their hometown. Their friends from school slowly grow accustomed to saying goodbye. Breaking bonds and reforming them after long periods slowly becomes a matter of emotional stability.
The United States is an expansive landmass to navigate in itself, but moving to the States from a different country entirely can pose larger problems. Sophomore sociology major Angela Gudeman was born and raised in Spain, having lived in the States only a few times before moving to southern California for Biola and her undergraduate education.
“You start getting better at saying goodbye, and your friends who have done this with you before start to understand,” Gudeman said. “[Moving to Biola the first time] was really really hard, because the other times that we had come back it was just for a year… but this time it was different because I knew I was coming here for an indefinite amount of time, and that was really scary.”
The Difficulties of Transition
Gudeman spoke on how difficult the transition truly was for her, and how her feelings of moving in seemed countercurrent to those of her fellow freshmen. Her sentiment and attachment to home made the adjustment extremely difficult.
“California wasn’t home, I had never lived here before, everything was entirely new to me,” Gudeman said. “I couldn’t talk to my mom for a week on the phone just because hearing her voice would just make me burst out, it was terrible.”
Concepts of Belonging
Interestingly, Gudeman’s definition of what and where home was remained tied to time — how long one has lived and learned in one place. Surrounding yourself with people who know your past and your present is central to her concept of belonging.
“I feel like home is where you’re surrounded by people who know you in your entirety, who have known you for long periods of time, and there’s a different sense of comfort with them than there are with people you’re just getting to know, people you may love forming new friendships with but it’s not, they don’t know your past and they don’t know your family situation,” Gudeman said. “So to me, home is where there’s people who understand the entirety of you, from many years before.