Opinion » Opinion | Sept. 15
I woke up to the wails of power tools. Some days, their agonizing, heart-rattling whirring would crescendo, as if the drills were threatening to burst through my wall, through my headboard, into my head. It was like waking up in the dentist’s office, amplified, up close, and in your face — six days a week. It was on these days that I bitterly thought to myself, “Welcome home.”
After finishing my first year at Princeton, I was looking forward to going home — sort of. A few months of struggling to find an interesting internship, the stress of finals and nostalgia for my hometown all made me eager to savor the sights and sounds that had accompanied my childhood and teen years. My pre-Princeton self was reignited. I was ready to meet up with old friends, eat my mother’s Indian cooking and drive my car on freeways that meandered through hills turned golden by sun-scorched grass.
But almost as soon as I came home, these romantic snapshots lost their vibrant colors, dulling in my mind. It didn’t help that my parents had commenced a massive renovation endeavor while I was gone. The construction had rearranged our lives, leaving my home in a much less welcoming state than I had expected. But my disappointment wasn’t confined to my house. In general, the familiar suburban environment that I was just looking forward to became tarnished and demeaned. My twisting roads paled in comparison to pictures of Princetonian globe-trekkers who were thrilled to be standing in front of the Taj Mahal, the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio and the U.S. Capitol. My internship struggles had already quelled my enthusiasm for my own summer prospects; now, seeing these images only exacerbated my emotions and made me feel trapped by the town that had raised me. I was kicking myself for not having gotten my act together sooner. Dreams of traveling across the world whisked me from a state of gratitude to one of indifference, until my numbness drowned the beauty of my surroundings. The bougainvilleas I saw on the way to my job were of no value to me, their ruby petals fluttering away on trellises that I ignored. The glassy San Francisco skyscrapers reflected sunshine throughout the city streets, while I squinted on and kept walking. I did not even fully acknowledge my fortune in landing a job that essentially paid me to watch and review documentaries, with a boss who was one of the most accommodating and easy-going women I’ve ever met. While my tasks were challenging and rewarding at times, I was stuck in a competitive funk, wrongly convinced that I had been outshone by others.
I couldn’t focus on what I had because I was convinced that a prestigious D.C. internship or international volunteer experience was better than what I was doing. There is a pressure around Princeton students to always find something better, cooler, more exotic, more honorable to do when it comes to summer vacation. But my sense of competition was limited to Princeton students — my high school friends, who go to colleges across the nation (including other Ivies), were all perfectly fine being back home, working at my high school as camp counselors, swim coaches and retail cashiers. I wondered if my friends experienced the same peer pressure to find something extraordinary to do over the summer. It’s possible that they felt exactly the same way.
Around the beginning of August, I began to understand that I had wished my beautiful, exciting summer away. I discovered that it’s okay to just go back home and explore the jungle that you never realized was really just your backyard. After all, it’s called a vacation for a reason. I may sound idealistic — and I’m certainly not advocating watching cat videos and scraping through every vaguely interesting Buzzfeed article — but sometimes, you learn how to appreciate home just by coming back there.
Some will say that it’s simply not practical to come home every summer, because post-college life requires us to learn from our free time, to make connections in far-off cities, to do the things we wouldn’t do in high school. And I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with doing something new. But this pursuit of exotic summer activities shouldn’t cloud our view of what is old and familiar to us. I realized during these months that home should not be seen as a step down.
This summer, I watched and wrote reviews of countless documentaries that changed my life. I picked up the ukulele, went horseback riding, saw dolphins in the Pacific Ocean. I went to two concerts, the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade (two days after DOMA and Proposition 8 were overturned), and a thing called the Bubbleverse that I still can’t quite make sense of. I went skydiving. I met my neighbor’s grandson for the first time, and learned how to make him laugh.
Home has its charms. I think that if we listen closely, even the jackhammers and drills can lull us to sleep — especially if it’s in your own bed.
Prianka Misra is a sophomore from Castro Valley, Calif. She can be reached at email@example.com.