There is a sense of wonder that accompanies the changing of seasons for me. Having grown up in northern California, where it is eternally 65 degrees and slightly overcast, fall in Michigan was cinematic the first time I experienced it, and it still takes me aback when I walk through campus. Seeing the bright hues of trees dotting the sides of the streets and highways around Ann Arbor brings me nothing but joy and warmth. There is an inherent sense of festivity that accompanies the season and an authenticity that the West Coast landscape of my upbringing lacks.

The autumn of my freshman year also brought the realization that I was far from home. Despite the whirlwind of commotion that constituted the beginning of my first year, I distinctly remember the first cold day. I had come to school with a single sweater and coat, blissfully unaware as to how quickly the relief from the summer heat quickly became the frigid nature of fall and winter. I remember my awe quickly morphing into homesickness, a longing for warmth and a familiar face in the sea of undergraduate students. 

I know I am not alone in this feeling — I still find myself feeling this way. 

As my third year in Ann Arbor continues on, my perspective has slightly shifted. Fall is still this magical time in which nature really is in its prime. The leaves still carpet the grass and sidewalks, people come and go in costumes and venture to cider mills on the weekends. But now, fall is not something that makes me long for home (except for maybe the California weather), but just a reminder of how I am living a new experience, independent of what I had been accustomed to for so long. With the comings and goings of the seasons every year, personal change has followed. Friends, activities, academic interests, experiences, the type of music I like at the time or a new snack food obsession — time has brought these changes, big and small, over time.

Three years ago, I stood in the rain, lost on my way to class, terrified of how to make my way as a student here at the University of Michigan, knowing little about what I wanted to do and having few familiar faces. I called my mom, overwhelmed with this sense of panicked uncertainty. I explained what was happening, and after patiently listening, she gave me a single piece of advice: Find something that reminds you of home. 

Life in its stages brings in the new, for the good and the bad. Sometimes we can predict it, like the changing of seasons, and other times we cannot, like getting caught in the rain on a windy fall day. It is what we do with that change and how we embrace it moving forward that makes the largest impact on our lives. As students, our lives are constantly bringing the new into our somewhat established routines and livelihoods. My past self found this difficult, and at times I still find it difficult. But the key to how I have managed to deal with the newness, homesickness and distance is to find familiar things from home and work them into my life wherever I find myself cooking food that reminds me of my family’s cooking, watching my hometown sports teams play or listening to music that I connect to my childhood. Carrying a bit of the old into the new offers a sense of security and something I can fall back on. 

After talking to my mom on that rainy day, I rushed home and got a big bowl of vegetable soup, something I would always eat on rare rainy days as a kid. It was a temporary fix, but it offered a greater lesson as to the importance of incorporating the old into the new. So, as we all embrace fall and the change that comes with it, remember to seek out the old and comfortable as things seem unfamiliar or uncertain. Carry yourself through with the familiar, as I plan to do starting with a big bowl of soup.

Samantha Szuhaj can be reached at szuhajs@umich.edu.

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