Why does my hometown feel different after going to college?

Ella Schuellerman, Arts & Life Editor

This week in E’s Editorial, I talk about how my hometown feels different ever since I went off to college. It seems to be a phenomena many of college students experience. (Ella Schuellerman)

High school was filled with unique memories. During my sophomore year, I used to tally, in my planner, the number of times a particular girl wore a puffer vest to school. I spent my junior year learning how to date boys — they’re another species, you know. My senior year consisted of living in a layer of childhood nostalgia and angst, as I knew I would soon be headed to college. I was trading in my hometown for the C-L-E!  

But the inevitable hometown visits started to hit differently when I came home for college  breaks. I am talking about those little windows throughout the school year when college students can head home for a nice weekend, maybe hit up the old stomping grounds. 

It felt good to escape school at times. It forced me to get the taxing assignments, nutty professors and a stack of to-do’s out of my head for a short time. Here’s the thing, though. Hometown visits are weird once you leave the nest. You know exactly what I am talking about. 

You’re home for Easter and run into an old classmate at the local grocery store while picking up ingredients for last-minute dishes for their mom.

You’re home for Thanksgiving and see the used-to-be jock drunk at the only dive bar in town, telling tales of the football days. Old habits die hard. 

You’re home for Christmas and keep running into the same old peers at the gym, yet nobody acknowledges each other’s existence. Just keep running, and don’t make eye contact.

I once darted into the local Starbucks in my mixed-matched pajamas and ran into the last person I wanted to see at the crack of dawn on a Sunday. I sat in a booth across from an old schoolmate, made swift eye contact, maybe a headnod, but kept eating my banana pancakes. 

Why is it that once we “leave the nest,” we lose any sense of familiarity with the place or people in the town where we grew up in? Is it because we, as young adults, evolve once we get outta Dodge?

I think it’s because when we leave the suburbs, it’s like we stop some metaphorical clock on the little town that helped us grow. Every time we return after being gone for so long, it seems like that clock starts ticking again. It feels as if we never left. We’ve changed, but the town hasn’t.

We are not the young, dumb kids who would waste our gas driving around neighborhoods we didn’t live in. I don’t sneak onto the football stadium at night and play music from the very center of the field. I don’t spend my Friday nights at the local Swensons or grabbing a gas-station slushie.

A Coke and cherry swirl sounds quite good right now, though.

It is inevitable that the things and experiences that once comforted me as a teenager no longer hold place in my life. However, I do still love a good jam session in my 2012 Honda CRV when I come home. 

Now, as an almost-college graduate, my hometown serves different purposes for me. It’s the place where my parents will probably live out the rest of their lives, acting as my family’s anchor. It’s the place where my favorite happy hour spot has a bartender that now knows how I like my mules. It’s the place where I rose above all the teenage angst and melodrama. 

I have great admiration for my hometown but for different reasons now. Sometimes I wonder if the hometown I knew is just like the one my little sister is experiencing right now. She is a freshman in high school. The fashion trends, music and what’s cool have changed. I can only assume my hometown has undergone a transformation of its own too.