In the college narrative, there seems to be a trope about leaving home behind in order to become independent. There is something about being half a country away that causes self-transformation. Something about separation from the familiar that spurs growth. Something about outdistancing the past that makes it feel as if we are moving into a new era.
To many, coming to Stanford fits this narrative. As part of a freshman class that boasts of students from fifty states and eighty-two countries, it is safe to assume that a number of my peers embarked on journeys of varying distances to this university. In leaving behind all that is familiar, these students have been granted the liberty and autonomy to make mistakes, to grow and yes, to spend that Saturday night talking with a roommate instead of doing two-week old laundry.
As a freshman who lives a mere twenty minutes down I-280, coming to Stanford has never felt like that great pilgrimage. In the months when everyone seemed to be literally stepping (or driving or flying) out of their comfort zone, I remained comfortably in the Bay Area in which I had lived my entire life.
This, of course, has come with some pretty wonderful benefits. For one, I have never had to lament the loss of boba, unlike my east-bound friends. My favorite restaurant remains just a few Caltrain stops away (i.e. ToBang, Sunnyvale). And weekly phone calls with Mom can — and have — turned into spontaneous visits home.
At the same time, however, there seems to be a notion that I must distance myself from my hometown to make space for independent growth. Physical proximity seems to imply dependence — dependence on the familiar and the familial.
Personally, I have yet to feel that my closeness to home in any way infringes upon my autonomy. As a college campus that is notoriously insular (i.e. “the Stanford bubble”), Stanford has been as new and liberating an environment as any other. With no curfew, no set meals and no mandatory class attendance, I am as free as any other freshman to schedule my days as I please, though I can’t think of why I wouldn’t want to eat, sleep and learn. Here, I am equally able to grow into an adult, whatever that means. And when adult-ing fails, I too have the capacity to become an irresponsible human being who, I assure you, did not have to resort to recycling shirts last week.
At the same time, there is still so much in the Bay Area that I have neglected to explore. In the past weeks, I was able to share in moments of novelty while visiting places I had previously thought I knew well. For instance, despite annual ski trips to Reno throughout my childhood, I was able to backpack in a completely foreign part of the Sierras on my pre-orientation trip. And despite countless hours spent in San Francisco, I discovered a great ice cream parlor and a dragon beard candy shop there on my dorm’s scavenger hunt.
The mythology that correlates distance from home and opportunity for independent personal growth is something that I have trouble reconciling. Whatever the case, however, I know this to be true:
Stanford has become a second home, even as I have barely left that beige building 15 miles off campus that I consider as my first. And I still got to experience that heart-warming moment when I last visited my family on a Thursday night and ran into a friend:
“I’m here until nine,” I said offhandedly. “After that, I’m going back home.”
Contact Irene Han at irenehan ‘at’ stanford.edu.