I remember the feeling deep in my chest when I hugged my mother good-bye. Looking around, all I could see was an impressive collection of cardboard boxes with my clothes and prized possessions. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of boxes. Then I watched my mother walk out the door, leaving me alone. The anxiety was overwhelming and grew into a huge lump in my throat. I was in a different world, far from home. I was at college.
The unsure emotions of this profound independence and the frightening notion of living with a stranger - also known as a roommate - are still vivid. Last August seems like last week, but in reality, I started college over a year ago. And though it was difficult to adjust to living in a dorm, it was almost as difficult to return home when the year ended.
College wasn't just a tremendous educational opportunity, it gave me the chance to live a different life. Late night Chinese food, wearing plastic flip-flops in the shower, and studying in the library until early morning became the norm. Slowly, my hall evolved from my address to a friendly community where I felt secure. The girls who lived around me ranged from a Polish exchange student to a vegan to a pothead. Our hall was small compared to some in other dorms, creating an intimate setting. Whenever I felt a roommate-induced tension headache, I would look for support and kind words from others on my floor. Through the year, I felt the benefits of a sisterhood without ever living in a sorority.
After the summer weather turned crisp and the leaves changed to a multitude of colors, my friends and I happily paraded around the hall showing off our Halloween costumes. Through the frigid winter, we survived by fueling our coffee addiction and complained about walking to distant classes. Finally the snow thawed and spring returned. After a massive celebration for the culmination of finals, we all said good-bye. I walked down the hall and said good-bye to the girls who had created a memorable first year of college.
I had survived the roommate from hell who used her Internet addiction to invite strange boys to spend the night in our room. I had survived the homesickness of missing my puppy and my mother, who has always been one of my closest confidants. I survived frightening term papers and final exams that practically made my knees shake from raw fear. With the support and smiles from my neighbors on the floor, I survived every challenge.
The first week in May marked my return home to my family. Immediately, I faced striking changes. One night, I sat quietly watching a television show.
"Do you know what time it is?" my younger brother asked, walking into the room with a groggy expression. "It is almost 11:30!" Yes, I was officially home when I was the only one in the house awake at that ungodly hour.
Despite the negatives, it was refreshing to have my parents' comfort face-to-face instead of over telephone wires. I almost had forgotten about our family dinners and homemade food. Finally, I had a room to myself. My own space was a luxury. And I could go barefoot in the shower - amazing!
Going to college and coming home again are both incredible experiences. Though vastly different with advantages and disadvantages, this is all part of growing up. I can still remember that horrible lump in my throat when I watched my mother leave my dorm room, taking a large part of my naivete with her. Only now, I have another deep feeling in my throat - an unbreakable love for my new college hallmates - that replaces it.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.