Reflection: A Long Way From Home
One writer reflects on her off term spent abroad and the meaning of home.
Well, here it is. The long-awaited off term. I am currently taking a 10-week sabbatical from school, or what we Dartmouth students call an “off-term.” The off-term is a unique facet of life at Dartmouth. For some, it is a refuge — a period away from Hanover that feels much needed and deserved. This time away from campus can be used to spend time abroad or pursue internships. For others, however, it’s quite stressful. This break in the D-Plan is often the cause of distanced friendships and break-ups. It can also be hard to find something to do that feels fulfilling. In many cases, it feels like leaving home all over again — especially after you’ve spent the past year or two carving out your place on campus.
I may currently be on my off-term, but once again, I find myself writing a reflection for The Dartmouth. It feels like the way things should be — as they have been for the past two years now — except this time I’m in London and thousands of miles away from the orange leaves of fall in Hanover.
My off-term comes at the heels of the renowned sophomore summer, which feels like an inflection point in the middle of my time at Dartmouth. During sophomore summer, the campus empties of everyone except your class, which means knowing at least half of the people in each room you walk into and encountering short lines in traditionally crowded spaces like Collis. It’s often when people start to feel a certain ownership of their lives at Dartmouth — they hold leadership positions in their clubs and Greek houses and have finally gathered the lay of the land. In many ways, sophomore summer is the sweet life.
Transitioning into junior fall can be jarring, since most juniors are either off or studying abroad. Campus becomes barren of the junior class, so it felt natural for me to take my off term now. After all, almost all of my friends would be away from campus, and I would have just finished my fourth straight term of taking classes. Admittedly, I’m severely burnt out academically and feared that taking another term of classes in Hanover would simply do me in. But as I sit here writing this, I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic for Hanover. I’m homesick, but it is a completely different longing than the one for my childhood home.
The concept of home is an interesting one for me. I’ve found that it has changed drastically since I left my hometown in Florida. Before I left for college, I had an incredibly binary view of what it meant to be home. Home used to be the white house at the end of the street, whose driveway I pulled into on my way home from school. It encompassed my family, the people I had known my entire life and a room full of my books and belongings. As I grew older, I realized that Istanbul, the city that my parents grew up in, had also become home — its familiarity growing deeper with each annual visit.
It was during the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown that I first realized that home did not have to be a physical place, but rather could be found in other people. Being physically apart from so many of my closest friends and family, I realized that the emotion I felt was homesickness — even from the comfort of my physical home.
I decided at the end of sophomore summer that the best remedy for my burnout was a homecoming of sorts, with some time spent reconnecting with the people and places that raised me. I desperately needed the comfort and support of home, but I found myself confused as to what exactly that looked like. Where would I even begin to find that sense of home? The answer would have been simple a few years ago, but now I’m not so sure.
I now spend most of my time in Hanover and have grown attached to its old buildings and wonderful people. I haven’t been back to Florida in months, filling my breaks between terms with random activities such as volunteering for First-Year Trips. Not to mention that my home in Florida has taken on a different role in my life after the destruction caused by Hurricane Ian and some personal loss of my own. In many ways, I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel like I’m going home to the one that I left a few years ago. A lot has changed, but I suppose that in response, I have too.
I’ve found that I now consider other people to be “home” much more than I do any physical space. The memories I have in various places with the people that I cherish are now what bring me that sense of love and comfort. I’ve decided to dedicate my time away from campus to reconnecting with the people that I love and spending time with those who bring me joy, inspiring me to be a happier and kinder person. I’m spending the first half traveling to meet some other ’25s and friends who are studying abroad in Europe, and then I’m heading to Florida for some much needed rest and recuperation. I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you are surrounded by love and laughter, for at the end of the day, that is what makes a home.