I felt like Goldilocks in my weeklong exploration of New York City’s wild concrete jungle and Northern Vermont’s wild lush greenery. After returning to cozy Cambridge, Massachusetts, I allowed myself a good stretch and a happy sigh that said, “I just experienced wild on two different extremes, but this is where I feel at home. This middle ground is where I’d like to be.”
Then I packed up my bags again and hopped on a plane home. To my other home, I mean. Good ol’ sunny, drought-stricken California.
I don’t particularly miss the humidity of Massachusetts summers or the perpetual symphony of angry car horns, but a piece of me does crave the pleasant buzz of foot traffic and intellectual curiosity that Cambridge, home of two of the world’s most respected universities, provided me these past few months. I long for another Friday night at one of so many awe-inspiring museums, and I ache for the lively rooftop discussions of Plato and morality and formerly unfamiliar philosophical notions. I crave the breathtaking skyline view from my bedroom’s grand bay window, through which I could watch the city’s descent into night and allow my mind, frazzled from the hectic workday, to simply sit and ponder. It is with the white noise of a city like Cambridge that I found my thoughts most inclined to explore. Moreover, with peers who shared similar sentiments, I became immersed in some of the most stimulating conversations the bounds of my intellect have ever known.
This describes my feelings of home in Cambridge, but it is an accurate representation of my home at Pomona College too.
While such feelings of comfort stem from an environment that actively fosters learning and discovery, a city’s physical environment has some bearing on my impressions of it too. Vermont, a gorgeous spectacle of nature, felt too remote and sparse for my affection towards bustling hubs. New York City was too crowded, too busy, and too urban; a great place to visit, but not as livable as I’d hoped. One could say I found my perfect Goldilocks “middle” with Boston’s population density and geographical location. Yet to me, these facets alone are not what comprise a home. To neglect the people that comprise a home is to neglect the heart of it. Home is a feeling, and the people are what draw me back every time.
Just as the people I met positively influenced my summer in Cambridge, the people of Pomona College have fundamentally defined my college experience. The conversations and discussions I’ve had with students, faculty, and staff members stand out above all, and because of their bold, inquisitive spirits, I feel at home in the amiable college town of Claremont. With the wonderfully intelligent people I met this summer, I can say that I also now feel at home in the academic hub that is Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Yet I must also recognize how fortunate I am to have resided in environments centered around academia. Few have the privileges of a liberal arts education and of living in a safe, wealthy college town. In pursuit of expanded horizons, I must therefore challenge my own comfort in such privilege, in deriving my appreciation of a city through the ability of its people to join me in theoretical ponderings. Why can’t I find feelings of home within the working class, people for whom priorities may be gaining financial stability rather than questioning the future of contemporary art? Why am I so much more appreciative of people who enjoy the same privileges of pure learning as me? This to me feels like the divisive power of higher education.
I used to turn my nose at people wholly preoccupied with thoughts about schoolwork or their career. I questioned their intellectual capacity to see the bigger picture, or to learn for the sake of learning rather than for a certificate upon graduation. Although I may not share the same thought-provoking conversations with them as I do with my peers at Pomona or in Cambridge, I must remind myself that different is not lesser. To be educated, to be at an institution of socially cognizant and interrogative peers, is a privilege that I am lucky to have.
In whatever manner I think about my good fortune, it comes down to this: my sweet summer in Cambridge taught me that what truly makes a home, for me, is the people. A city can offer the perfect physical conditions for living, but without the late-night passionate conversations, I would be left feeling empty.
What makes a place special to you? I challenge you to find your own answer as I’ve found mine this summer. I am extremely grateful for the privileges I experience as a student of Pomona College, but Claremont and Cambridge are just two homes I’ve thus far made in my life. Let’s see where else my lifelong pursuit of learning takes me.
(Hint: stay tuned for my adventures this fall at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland!)