In times like these, when the world seems especially heavy, I want to share something that made my heart feel light.
For my mini-spring break this year, I decided to go back and visit my undergraduate institution for the first time since my graduation in May of 2019. I didn’t think much of it: I was going back to a town I knew very well and where I knew a lot of people. It was a trip I had made more times than I could count. I thought it would be a run-of-the-mill little trip before I jumped back into research.
I had no idea this trip would mean as much to me as it did.
This trip induced the most nostalgic feeling I’ve ever experienced of my life. It was so hard to appreciate the little town my university occupies until I had left it for so many months. I had no idea that going back to a place that seemed so average and “normal” to me would make me feel such a wide range of emotions.
It made me realize that every street corner I passed had a story. Each building I revisited, I could see myself sitting in the lecture halls with my friends, I could remember the sound of the professor’s voice who had taught in that room. I would see signs on campus that I remembered passing and reading every day and, having not seen them in months, they looked so much more fresh to me now.
I couldn’t go anywhere on campus without remembering. I walked by my old dorm and things got even crazier, because I recalled wondering if my dorm-friends would be people I knew forever or just people I knew temporarily. The thing that blew my mind is: I know the answer to that wonder now. I know that many of them have become people that I cannot imagine my life without. I also know the ones that stuck around versus the ones that didn’t are hardly what I would’ve expected when I lived there.
I felt this longing the first day of my trip. A longing to return and just stay there, to stay with things I knew that were familiar and people that I had been close to for so many years. The nostalgia was getting to me, I simply did not want to leave.
However, a little further into my trip, I started to notice changes.
Things around campus were different. Physically, there were buildings that were demolished that I had been so used to seeing, and new ones coming up in places I never would have expected. The grounds had changed their greenery, the sidewalks were newer, even some of the roads had experienced a transformation in the time I had been gone.
I recognized the place, but not as completely as I used to.
I also realized that, although the place would always inhabit an important part of my heart, it wasn’t the same campus that I was in love with during undergrad. Part of the magic of college, I believe, is the community of people you create. And these people surround you, day-in and day-out. And in my memories, these people live on at my undergrad institution. I remember grabbing lunch with them on a whim, or walking each other to class, or running into each other at the library.
Just like me, my community had moved on. On campus, I saw nearly no one I recognized, and while this was a weird feeling, it helped ease my nostalgia tremendously.
The bitter-sweet visit was exactly what I needed. It reminded me that the place was still there, and that it wasn’t going anywhere while I was away. I also know I can always go back there and feel a little bit at home. But, I also know it’s not the place it used to be to me, which is good because it means I can move on, and that by moving on I am doing the right thing.
So, in these crazy times, if anyone is feeling that longing to go back to a place you know and you remember, be it your undergrad institution or anywhere else you feel nostalgic about, make a point to go back there. For me, it allowed me to accept the changes in my life rather than dodging them and letting memories hold me back.
Serina Taluja is doctoral student in the Genetics program.