Over the past year, I’ve learned something from the Ann Arbor and campus community that can’t be taught in any classroom or by any professor. And it’s a lesson that will endure long after I forget how to take the derivative of a function or conjugate French verbs.

The University student body draws from all across the state, the country and even the world. For many of you, this is your first time spending the majority of your year away from the place you had previously called “home.” Before moving to Ann Arbor, you knew the streets of your old hometown like the back of your hand, you had grown accustomed to the sights and sounds of a typical day and you frequently passed places that housed memories from years past — where you made mistakes, where you conquered your fears and where you experienced your greatest accomplishments.

But then you were dropped here, in the middle of this energetic, sprawling mini metropolis. All around you were streets with unfamiliar names, buildings and locations that held no memories or significance and a mass of people you had never met asking you to support this cause, vote for this person or donate to this charity — if they even spoke to you at all.

After growing up in Farmington Hills, Michigan (a suburb outside Detroit) for 15 years, I discovered what it was like to be dropped into a strange new area with different types of people, cultures and social norms when I moved to Palm Harbor, Florida in 2006. I contracted the typical “Transplanted Child Syndrome,” and I looked at everything through the lens of “this place isn’t like where I’m from, why aren’t things like they were where I grew up, why can’t I go back, etc.” In a sense, I placed my hometown on a pedestal it didn’t really deserve just because it was that familiar place I could call “home.”

Even though I had always wanted to attend the University, I also saw it as my way to get back home. This summer, I packed up all my belongings in my oversized Buick Century and drove 2,000 miles to come here with my favorite desk chair blocking my rear window the entire way. I spent the rest of the summer living in my grandma’s basement, only three miles from the house I grew up in. But, still, something was missing. Despite being back where I grew up, just as I thought I had wanted, I felt constrained.

And then I came here. Instantly, everything clicked. This campus has a liveliness that those of us from the suburbs have never experienced. It’s not just the exuberance of the city on football Saturdays — it’s the vibrancy this campus breathes every day. It’s the rallies on street corners by people on every side of the political spectrum. It’s the hustle and bustle of students rushing to class all throughout the day — even though we already run on Michigan time. It’s the cars driving on overflowing streets honking at people spilling over into their path. It’s the crowded sidewalks at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night and the 3 a.m. cravings for crappy Mexican food.

My time at the University has taught me a valuable lesson that took place not in Dennison or Angell Hall, but amid the unmistakeable vigor of the Diag on the first warm, sunny day of this semester. After spending the past several months trudging through slush and snow and wondering why on earth I came here, I took a brief moment to pause and look around as people passed me by. A gentle complacency washed over me. It was at that moment that I realized that home isn’t where you grew up — home is simply where you feel at home. And here, without a doubt, I feel at home.

Now, as summer nears, everyone’s looking forward to spending four months “back home.” Despite the stresses of classes, homework, exams, etc., there’s going to be a lot I’m going to miss when I return to the suburbs. Sure, I’ll see lots of places that hold memories — but something will be missing. I won’t see people partying on rooftops at 9 a.m. on a football Saturday or a moonwalk set up on the Diag on a random Tuesday afternoon. I’ll even miss playing makeshift games of putt-putt in the hallways of East Quad.

Students, we come from a diverse array of communities, but I’m willing to bet that most of you spent the majority of your life relatively near where you graduated high school. Lacking the familiarity of your hometown, I am sure many of you have probably felt lonely, isolated or homesick in some way over the course of your time at the University. But most of us will attest to the fact that that feeling ebbs as you begin to realize that no matter what city, state or country you hail from, we all need to step out of the comfort of our hometown to grow as individuals.

Alex Schiff is an assistant editorial page editor. He can be reached at aschiff@umich.edu.

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