At my freshman NSO welcome session, I told people that I was from Princeton, New Jersey — even though I hadn’t lived there in close to two years. To be fair, it was half-true. I was as “from Princeton” as I could have been without actually being “from Princeton,” because I had lived in a rental apartment during the week to attend the same high school.
I was sixteen years old when my parents made the decision they’d been discussing for years and finally decided to move about an hour and a half north toward New York. The month we spent packing, organizing and shipping everything we owned off to Weehawken, New Jersey made for a summer I couldn’t particularly call enjoyable or exciting. Trying to fit my belongings into those cardboard boxes constantly reminded me of everything I was losing.
This wasn’t a move like ten years earlier, when my family relocated from a cramped little townhouse, one of 500 exact lookalikes, into a bigger house around fifteen minutes away. When I was six, I was so excited that I had barely said goodbye to our old house before I was calling the strange new place with a backyard and a pool my home. No work, no trouble — this was my conception of moving.
I managed high school. Being completely alienated from my friends and the town in which I had grown up every weekend wasn’t completely terrible. My trouble really started when I left for college and no longer had a reason to come back down to Princeton.
The later you move, the harder it gets. It has been two years since I left college and I still have yet to meet a person my age in Weehawken. Or really anyone, for that matter. I’m around here so infrequently because of school that I haven’t spent more than a few weeks in our new home at any point in time. I go to school in Washington, D.C., I only know my parents in Weehawken and I haven’t been to Princeton in over six months. I feel without a home sometimes, maybe because I have too many.
Coming home from college, from what I gather, is supposed to be that strange, nostalgic period in your life where old friends from high school meet and try to be comfortable being young adults instead of teenagers together. I spent most school vacations alone, and it’s often a welcome break from the insanity of balancing college classes with college everything else. But every so often, I wish for just a bit of what my friends in Princeton have. In some ways, I’m glad we moved when we did; I’ve never known what it was like to be on break in my hometown, but it’s a sad little truth that I’ve never failed to think about when I would take a train down to Princeton and have to leave in the late afternoon to get back to New York Penn Station before it got too dark.
I doubt many people know what it’s like, for school to be more a more familiar home than your parents’ house, for your hometown and every friend you made up through high school to become hazier memories with each day that passes.
Home, in the sense with which I define it, has never been something I could tie down with place. Or least, it isn’t anymore. But if I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that I haven’t counted on a place to provide a sense a home in a very long time. Instead, I’ve counted on myself to make home where I need it, and what I need it to be. It’s been far more difficult, but after all this time, I don’t think I could do it another way.
Princeton used to be the easiest answer to the question of where I am from, but it doesn’t make much sense anymore. Maybe it’s the world telling me to stop being so pretentious and say “New Jersey” like half of Georgetown’s student body anyway.
Jinwoo Chong is a rising junior in the College. Party of Four appears every other Monday.
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