It was a snowy January day during my first winter at Northwestern. I don’t remember exactly where I was coming from or headed, but I vividly recall talking with my friend Mila about missing our families, our childhood homes, and the comforting meals our moms had provided just weeks earlier over winter break. “I really do love it here, but Northwestern just doesn’t feel like home and I don’t think it ever will,” I said. “Yeah,” Mila agreed quietly. We stuffed our hands a little deeper into our pockets, nuzzled our noses back into our scarves, and continued side by side down Sheridan Road in silence.
For me, home has always been associated with physical things, feelings, and sounds. During freshman and sophomore years, when I was living in the dorms, I constantly wished I was able to fall into the squishy queen-sized bed in my Michigan bedroom. Instead, I struggled to climb into my semi-lofted university-issued bunk after long nights of studying in the library or drinking in frat basements. I yearned for hugging my mom every day after school, making fun of my siblings at the dinner table, and walking downstairs at 1 a.m. to get a glass of water only to find my dad still awake in his home office. There was even a six-month period when all I could think about every time I went to a dining hall was how badly I wanted a plate that would shatter if I dropped it.
I’m not sure exactly when, why, or how I started thinking about Northwestern differently — but eventually, I did. I realized that any time I walked along campus’s main paths or went to Norris, I saw someone I knew. I got more involved with NBN, spending way too many hours in McTrib every week with the same group of people, and made some incredible friends without even realizing it was happening. A new group of friends started inviting me to Shabbat dinners and Hillel events (despite the fact that I was raised Catholic), and the Jews and Meg crew was born. When I couldn’t watch Survivor with my dad in Michigan, Ben and Pelberg were always around for viewing parties and way-too-in-depth conversations about that week’s Tribal Council.
Spending two summers in Evanston helped solidify my connection to the place that I was initially skeptical to call my true home. I developed a connection with some of the local businesses (most importantly Tomate and Bookends & Beginnings) and went to the local farmer’s market most weekends. I changed my voter registration to the state of Illinois, because I realized that was where I spent nearly all of my time. Without even realizing it, almost everything I owned of consequence found its way from Michigan to a closet, bin, or shelf in one of my Evanston apartments. The new mattress I got when I moved off-campus definitely helped, too.
Looking back, I think I was initially resistant to call Northwestern my home because it was a place where I started off alone. I entered college with a handful of friends from a high school summer program, but for the most part, I was completely separated from the people who had supported me up until that point. As much as I told my friends and family that I was excited to be hours away from the place where I grew up, I was also scared to leave the web of people who cared for me and made me feel welcome.
What I didn’t realize during my first year at Northwestern was that, with time, I could create a new web. While it is different from the one I grew up with, my Northwestern web is similarly filled with people who make me feel loved, like I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Now that I’m spending the final quarter of senior year at my childhood home, I somewhat ironically find myself longing for the feelings, tastes, sounds, and sights of the place I swore I would always feel somewhat disconnected from.
To all of the friends who sat with me in the Music Library after midnight, got drunk with me on school buses en route to bar nights and formals, went to Todorkoki for all-you-can-eat sushi lunch, and sat on the Lakefill when it was objectively too cold outside: Thank you. To everyone who helped me make a magazine, put on Project Pumpkin, went to the Apple Store with me when my laptop died, or was my caps partner even though I was horrible: Thank you. To those of you who hugged me tight when I cried, watched The Bachelor or Jeopardy with me, and listened to me talk endlessly about my thesis: Thank you. To anybody who shelled out money for a non-dining hall meal with me while we lived in the dorms, endured a group project with me, or let me sleep in their apartment when I just didn’t feel like going home: Thank you. The love that you all showed me during our four(ish) years in E-Town is what eventually made Northwestern feel like home, and for that I am eternally grateful.