They say you cannot choose family, but given the choice, I would choose mine.

My family is a bit like a cast of characters. The five of us, plus our two dogs, could be filmed on location in our Dallas home for a classic American sitcom. It would probably do pretty well, too, if I may say so myself.

We are the kind of family that demands developing a thick skin, as every gathering involves some sort of roast and airing of dirty laundry that no one ever forgets. I will never let my younger brother live down the time I was brainstorming ideas for a college essay — “describe one of your quirks” — and he suggested I write about my big thighs. Classic mistake, honestly. A friend came to visit me at home last weekend and aptly noted that my house is a “brave space.”

I feel lucky to be able to say that my family is my comfort zone. They have seen all of me. They dealt with my drama, my trauma and all the ups and downs in between. Amid it all, they support me, celebrate me and stand by me no matter what, even if they are also laughing at me. Until college, I did not realize how rare a family like this could be.

Coming to Georgetown, I faced an exciting prospect. No one knew me here, no one understood where I came from, no one could relate or compare my 18-year-old self to a previous version of me. I was thrilled — finally a new environment where I could be anyone. So, just like every other bright-eyed freshman, I set off to find myself.

I soon discovered that relationships are complicated in the sea of hook ups. I realized that hometowns can be more dimensional than simply where you went to high school. I learned that privilege is inherent and subconscious even when we actively avoid it. And I found that all of us react to pressure and high stakes in varying but sometimes contagious ways.

Still, I had the means to break out of my comfort zone, to leave my old self behind: the one who dreamed of life beyond high school, of a world outside of Dallas, Texas. I joined the mass of Georgetown students, fresh and new to the Hilltop and ready to “be different.”

I thought there was no way I was like my parents. I could choose to deviate or conform to my family identity, and I wanted to try something new. I thought everyone did. After all, everyone’s families were like mine. We were the classic American family.

But as I get older, visit home less and less and notice how glaring my sense of displacement is, I find that I choose family. Ultimately, they contextualize me, describe where I came from and put me on the path to where I was going. Family tends to do that, whether you also choose family or you wish you could.

The identities we construct do not always define us, nor do they characterize our legacies. Frankly, if we did not explore the endless opportunities that create who we are, we would be doing college wrong. I easily get lost in the daily dramas of Georgetown life and love to feed my grandiose sense of self-worth with lengthy treatises on the right ways to construct identity. It is part of the process, one with an indefinite beginning and end. But if I ever need a jerk back to reality? I just call my mom. She is the one who told me to write this column anyway.

Caitlin Karna is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. This is the final installment of UNMASKED.

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