Last spring, Yale sent us packing. Some came back to childhood houses inundated with nostalgia, others returned to complicated living conditions and a number remained on Old Campus. Wherever it was, however, we were all reunited with that place, or idea, that we evade during the school year: home.
At Yale, home serves as baggage. It presents complicated relationships, ideas and communities of a separate life. That separate life feels so distant and distracts us from the new lives we’ve created at Yale. In response, we frequently cordon ourselves off from everything related to home, using ignorance to fend off discomfort.
Life at Yale provides scores of excuses for us to evade home with midterms, clubs and social events. I’m not denying that we are busy, but some of us certainly avoid confrontation with home. That time spent scrolling on Facebook, for example, could’ve been replaced with a phone call to or a journal reflection about home.
Beyond our time at Yale, we don’t utilize the breaks that Yale provides. Rather than using them as a constructive time to reflect and address problems we sweep aside, we disconnect from everything. We push issues that arise at the dinner table for “later” until classes invariably resume.
The pandemic created a valuable opportunity to finally address home. Our unexpected time away from campus — whether it was the spring semester or the entire year — eliminated our best excuses, pushing many of us to confront long-ignored problems. We can only tolerate discomfort for so long. For even the most staunch evaders of confrontation, several months of personal insecurity, cultural disconnect and problematic relationships can be stunningly uncomfortable.
Throughout my childhood, I had always been hesitant to ask my father about his past because of the painful, tremendous sacrifices he had made for our family. I wanted to avoid the pain of hearing how he had foregone his dream for me. But as I spent my months at home with him, I realized I was the same age he was when he had made his defining life decisions. My restlessness and curiosity finally drove me to ask him what regrets he had. The conversation that ensued was a cathartic moment that made me appreciate him greatly — and motivated me to treat him better through fewer missed phone calls and texts.
I know I am not alone. Other classmates addressed different areas of their home lives. Some met with old teachers, finally making plans after years of flaking. Meanwhile, a few sat down with their parents and shared their real political opinions for the first time.
Addressing these topics at home requires humility. It means admitting that we’ve tried to escape or suppress some parts of our identity, falling short of our obligations to our families, cultures, communities — and ourselves. While difficult, this acknowledgment of our shortcomings gives our subsequent promises meaning and prevents us from falling back into the old habit of neglecting home. We often evade explicit apologies because of their discomfort, but these are the essential moments where we grapple with shame. Apologies create the basis for stronger promises. It is important to note that not all of these conversations may have a positive ending. Having these conversations, however, can give us clear expectations as to what we can — and cannot — accept about our homes and backgrounds.
We must not forget these lessons: the costs of ignoring home while we are at Yale are too high. We may be swept up in the grandeur of a new setting for four years, but home is permanent. We need to tend to home or otherwise we neglect the deepest parts of our identity. Having a strong foundation at home can provide perspectives on our experiences at Yale and keep us grounded amidst the fast pace of college life. For example, I felt imposter syndrome during my first year. With the newness of college and a desire to move on from home, I neglected parts of my identity. After being at home, I was forced to think about who I was and what I was trying to “move on” from.
For Yalies coming home, this semester presents an opportunity to recenter and reconnect directly with those communities and places some may have neglected. For those returning to campus, this semester presents a challenge to carry our growth from home into our time at Yale. Regardless of where we are, let’s claim our baggage.
EDWARD SEOL is a sophomore in Berkeley College. His column, titled “Evolving Dreams” runs monthly. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.