A Home 3,000 Miles Away From Home

On the first day of freshman year, I gave each of my roommates a bottle of maple syrup and a package of maple sugar candy. Everything that came after felt somewhat inevitable.

I am from Canada. Like, excessively so. I have spent most of the last year here at NYU fostering the moniker “Rachel from Canada,” rather successfully. Though Canada and America are inarguably quite similar, there are still so many differences I hadn’t even considered — despite living 30 minutes from the Washington State border and visiting the Evergreen State often throughout my life — until I moved here last fall.

I’m billed as an international student on paper, but whenever I go to international student events, I hear a symphony of languages and
accents so much more diverse than my own. I don’t hold the advantage of being able to apply for a job or go to a clinic other than NYU’s if I get sick. Despite this, I look and sound (for the most part) pretty darn American. I’m a blonde, white girl from the suburbs of Vancouver and had to deal with much less adversity to get here than other international students surely did — students who might be dealing with cultural shifts immeasurably more complicated than my own.

Nevertheless, I do miss Canada and the West Coast often and always. I miss the mountains in the distance punctuating the North rather than the Empire State Building. I miss my favorite hockey team playing at a reasonable hour. I miss my favorite kind of chips and chocolate bar. I miss not being made fun of for spelling favorite with a “u” in it. I miss not being constantly congested by the polluted New York City air. I miss 18 years
of familiarity.

But after the excitement and wonder of reuniting with family and friends this summer faded, I quickly hungered for my life in New York once again. My small suburban town didn’t quite cut it for me anymore. It felt different — almost as if I’d outgrown it, though I owe it everything I have.

One list of “I miss” was replaced with another. I missed living with my best friend and being able to go on late night falafel and Papaya Dog runs. I missed the friendly greeting of the Lipton dining hall card swiper. I missed seeing the Freedom Tower to the south and the Empire State Building to the north as I walked to class each day. I missed being free to roam the city at all hours of the day and night without worry for when the last bus home would depart. I missed the noise, the excitement, the infectious rhythm of a city that doesn’t sleep.

Now I am back in the city, living my dream but also constantly thinking of the home I have elected to leave behind for eight months of the year, though I still so deeply identify with it. I am caught in an unending cycle of homesickness. At home I constantly talk about New York and my friends and life there, and in New York I constantly talk about America’s shortcomings compared to the Great White North. I have two homes now — which is both a blessing and a curse.

*You can read the rest of “Homesick at NYU” here.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 12 print edition. Email Rachel Ruecker at [email protected].