I’m a nostalgic person. So, when my parents decided to move from my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia during my freshman year at Penn, I was disappointed I would lose the feeling of “coming home” on breaks. While only a 2-hour drive away, Atlanta might as well have been halfway across the world in terms of my endearment towards it. The city has since become much more familiar and never fails to impress me with its offerings, but somehow it’s never quite captured that comfort or coziness a true home provides. As graduation looms around the corner, and yet another big move comes into my life, I’ve started to think about what can transform any plain location into a welcoming home.
If you’re from a small town like me, you’ve probably experienced the inexplicable thrill of meeting someone who grew up in the same place. I know people who have more students attending Penn from their high school than from the entirety of my state, so it’s pretty exciting when someone catches the reference to my favorite BBQ joint. For natural reasons, we cling to our hometowns for those first foundational memories—first time driving alone, the park you used to frequent with your family. But hometowns are also valuable because they provide a sense of ownership. Like a proud New Yorker rattling off the best spots in the city, I’ll gladly claim authority over the smaller scale must-sees of Birmingham, Alabama.
Beyond the innate knowledge of my hometown, I’ve been able to create homes away from home because of the people who’ve been there with me. Cheesy as it may seem, Penn has truly become a second home because of the wonderful people that I’ve met. I’m lucky enough to live with eight incredible friends who make our (somewhat dingy) Campus Apartments residence into a comforting escape. That moment of feeling settled can be more valuable than I realize once the stresses of school start to kick in. Of course, being with family also produces the atmosphere of ease that comes with being somewhere familiar. As I’ve built more and more memories in Atlanta by exploring sites with my parents or sister, it’s slowly starting to gain a place in my heart just a short distance from Birmingham.
The next step for me and for anyone else moving after graduation will be to transform yet another city into more than a destination. With my parents’ move already under my belt, I know it’s not the geography but the memories mapped to certain places that will make them truly worthwhile.
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