To Belong

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It’s the summer before my senior year of high school and I am beginning my search for my dream college. My family is accompanying me on every visit, eager to see which school I choose. My friends are getting excited as they visit schools and find the place that fits them. We are all on a search to find our perfect colleges. I had heard that you just know when you step onto a campus that it’s where you belong and the place you will call home. I worry that this may not be the case for me, but continue my visits anyway.

“It’s so beautiful here”, my mother says. “I love that this campus is all connected by tunnels and it sits on a hill overlooking the whole town.”

“Yeah. It is really pretty here”, I respond.

“But we have plenty of other schools to visit so don’t worry.”

Every school has something different to offer. The community college I visit in Herkimer is as beautiful as my mother describes. I have nothing against going to a two year school first as I have no idea what I want to do with the rest of my life. But something doesn’t feel right. I know this isn’t my place.

I visit another two-year school then move on to four-year institutes. We head up north to Potsdam, NY, where I visit SUNY Potsdam. The campus is mainly filled with brick buildings and the town is quaint and old. There is something different about this school as I walk around the campus.

“Well I think this is the one. The team mascot is ‘Da Bears’,” my dad says.

I laugh, “Dad, you just like it because they’re like the Chicago Bears”.

I appreciate my dad’s humor in situations where being too serious can make me feel overwhelmed. His favorite football team happens to be the Chicago Bears, and he hopes I choose to go to school here so he can cheer for the Potsdam Bears as well. I have a strange feeling that this is more than just a coincidence, but I still feel like something is missing.

It’s now my senior year and almost time to decide where I want to spend the next few years of my life. I have been accepted into two community colleges as well as two four-year schools, one being SUNY Potsdam. The buzz around my school is crazy this time of year as my fellow students are being accepted by and accepting admission to their dream schools. For some of them, schools they have been dreaming of going to their whole lives are accepting their applications and they are ecstatic. One night I sit both my parents down at the kitchen table and take a deep breath before I speak. My siblings are standing in the doorway listening but staying out of the conversation.

“I want to go to Potsdam,” I say.

“Really?” my mother says.

“Yeah, it’s a good school and they have a music program if I decide I want to do that. It’s also close to Canada and I took French for so many years and now I could finally put it to good use.”

In hindsight, most of the reasons I choose to go to Potsdam made no sense and I was trying to find a way to justify a decision I wasn’t even sure of. I was trying to convince myself that it was a good choice. I was at a point where there was so much pressure to make a decision, and soon, and I crumbled under that pressure. But I can’t be too hard on my 18-year-old self. I didn’t know what else to do at the time.

The summer I graduated high school was a busy time. I was always filling out paperwork for school and getting documents sent to my future home. I was shopping for things I would need for my dorm room and trying to enjoy my last few months at home all at once. I remember being excited to leave home and go on this adventure but also scared at the same time to go to a place I had only been to a few times.

Fast forward about a semester and a half. I am doing well in college and have made tons of great friends. I am becoming independent and taking care of myself. I am also transferring out of Potsdam. This is a choice that didn’t come easy to me but is what I felt I had to do for myself. I couldn’t stay there knowing I never felt that spark when I first stepped on the campus.

“Are you sure about this?” my mother asks as we sit in the living room over my first winter break.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I answer, “I can’t stay there”.

“Ok, I will support you through this. Where do you think you want to transfer to?”

“Well, I’ve always had a love for NYC. I was thinking maybe somewhere down there, or just outside the city.”

From the first time I visited New York a few summers before, I was in love with the energy of the city and of the people there. Maybe this was the feeling that had been missing at Potsdam and going to school there would fill that void. So I began looking into schools in that area. I searched everyday, not telling anyone that I would be leaving at the end of the year. I kept it a secret until I couldn’t anymore. My friends were planning to live in a suite the next fall and they wanted me to join them. It would soon be time to sign up for fall housing and I kept avoiding giving them a straight answer, until one day we were standing in our hall waiting for the elevator and talking about the suite.

“Well I want to room with Akiva and then Heidi and Christina can be roomies since they are both kind of messy,” my friend Elise says.

“So then do you want to be my roommate, Haley?” Olivia asks.

The hall grows silent as they wait for my answer.

“Actually guys, I’m not going to be here next fall. I’m transferring to a school down in the city.”

It’s quiet and Elise drops her lower jaw in awe. The rest of them look upset as well and we all shed a few tears as we face the reality of the situation. I see the reality of my choice and begin to imagine my life without these girls who have grown to become my best friends. But my choice is made. I have decided on a school in Brooklyn for the fall and soon after the spring semester ends I begin preparing to move.

It’s a hot summer day in august and the city is bustling with people. My dad and brother have driven me down to Brooklyn to move into my new dorm room. They help me bring my stuff up 3 floors and take a minute to say goodbye before leaving. This time, I know it will be even longer before I see them again since I am almost 6 hours away from home. But something is comforting in knowing that I have made this choice and I could finally be where I belong.

I am sitting in my room on a Friday night. My only friend here in the city is out with friends from her hometown, and I am stuck at home with no plans. The night drags on and I begin to pace around my room. I stare out my window and look at the lights from the buildings around me in Brooklyn. I then realize that I am surrounded by millions of people, yet I feel more alone than ever. In that moment, I know that this is not where I belong either.

The next day, I begin looking at schools near home that I can transfer to. Then I break the news to my mom. I spill a few tears on the phone to her as I explain how I feel and that I want to leave this school and come back closer to home. She is confused, but also excited that I will be near her again. After we hang up the phone, I sit at my window and peer out into the big city I will soon leave.

This day is one I will remember for a long time. Possibly one I will tell my children and grandchildren about. That day, in the middle of December, in one of the biggest cities in the world, I realized something I hadn’t before. There was no such thing as finding that specific place where you belong. That strange feeling you’re supposed to get, the sense of home you are supposed to feel are not what it’s all made out to be. I realized that where we belong is where we are loved and where we’re surrounded by the people who love us most in this world. That feeling overwhelmed me, and I finally knew why I hadn’t felt that sense of belonging anywhere else. I didn’t need to be at a specific school, or in a huge city. I needed to be wherever my heart was; with my parents, my siblings, and my friends who cared about me and who I cared deeply for as well.

Although this is something I struggled to figure out and what may be more obvious to other people, I will cherish the experiences that got me to that point. Without making all those mistakes and wrong decisions, I would have never gotten to the truth.

I would have never realized what it meant to belong.

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