by Stella Dixon
Content Note: discussion of homesickness and bereavement
Surprisingly, in first year I managed to avoid feeling homesick. I think it was the excitement of going somewhere new, leaving behind the dullness of suburbia for the bright lights of Cambridge University. And anyway, I thought to myself, the terms are only eight weeks long! I’ll be back home and squabbling with my sisters about who got the biggest slice of pudding in no time. The familiarity of the routine of going home and coming back to Cambridge comforted me, and I never had any issues.
This year, however, has been slightly different. My family moved house during Michaelmas, and although I don’t miss my cramped old bedroom, it’s left me with a strange sense of lingering homesickness. During the vacation I missed both the familiarity of my room in Cambridge, and of the old house – there’s not much that’s stranger than arriving ‘home’ to find it isn’t the home you left, and that most of your stuff has been scattered to the four winds in a way not even the most ramshackle end-of-term packing could produce.
It must’ve got me in the mood for missing things, because when I came back to Cambridge at the start of this term I felt properly homesick for the first time. As well as missing my family, I also miss something new that came into my life over the holidays – pets. While missing family can be improved a little by spending time with friends, there’s a distinctly animal-shaped hole in Cambridge life given that we’re not allowed pets. The kittens tried to stow away in my suitcase (and oh, did I want to bring them) but I had to leave them at home. If only Cambridge really was like Hogwarts and let us bring along our animal friends.
But I didn’t just feel homesick for my family and pets. A recent and unexpected bereavement among a group of friends at another university brought home the phrase ‘home is where the heart is’ with painful clarity. It turns out the places where I feel ‘at home’ extend far beyond the four walls where my family live, and the college where I spend almost half the year – to me, home is where people who mean a lot to me live, wherever that might be. Cambridge is thankfully one of those places, but it’s still difficult to watch my friends from afar, and to feel like I have to choose between keeping up with the demands of a Cambridge term and taking time to visit, support and (eventually) heal with them.
Studying anthropology here in Cambridge, I often find myself confronting big questions about families and homes: whether our ‘kin’ are just who we’re biologically connected to, or whether it’s a broader matter of relatedness and who we feel a connection with. My experiences of missing more than my family suggest to me that perhaps we need to revise the meaning of ‘homesickness’ – in its current form, it constrains the range of acceptable melancholy to just those we live with ‘back home’, while struggling without friends from elsewhere, pets, or the comfort of a familiar lifestyle goes unacknowledged. That must change if we truly want to listen to people – maybe we even need to find a new word.
So, to those who are missing anybody, anywhere or anything – you are valid, you are worthy and you are not alone. There’s no magical cure for homesickness, but by sharing your experiences and reaching out, you might just let someone know that they’re not alone either.