The balancing act between familiar spaces and homesickness

Help that homesickness; a first-year gives their tips on finding comfort and embracing the familiar at NYU.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

Eating familiar food, participating in cultural affinity groups and carving out time for family can alleviate your homesickness. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Leeann Mclemore, Contributing Writer

In the excitement of getting my acceptance letter from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, I only thought about the world of new opportunities and connections I would make after moving to New York City. However — coming from El Paso, a city in Texas bordering Mexico — I never thought to pause and consider how to mentally prepare myself for such an extreme cultural shock. I felt paradoxically isolated and homesick but I was determined to change that.

Without realizing it, each day has become easier to be away from home because I have surrounded myself with familiarity and built a sense of community for myself. 

Cultural food

I rejoiced at the sight of a Mexican restaurant near campus, having been away from home for almost two weeks. I vigorously scanned ATLA’s menu for my favorite traditional Mexican dish: Torta de Milanesa. However, when the food finally arrived, I realized that the dish was all wrong: it had hamburger bread instead of bolillo, and the avocados were missing. Feeling disappointed about the meal, I left the restaurant feeling disconnected from my culture and deeply homesick. 

I ended up finding a better restaurant near campus called Tortaria. It is on the corner of University Place and E 12th Street. Unlike the first restaurant that I tried, their tortas are authentic and delicious. Everything was perfect. The bolillo, the meat and the avocado slices reminded me of home. I especially loved their chips and guacamole. When the owner, who is from Durango, Mexico, first moved to New York City, she was disappointed that there were no restaurants with authentic Mexican food in Manhattan. She opened Tortaria to change that.

There are street vendors around Washington Square Park that sell mango con chamoy y Tajín, the same food I had in El Paso. The sweet tangy combination of the nectarine melting into the Chamoy brings back vivid memories of being a child and receiving a cup of this concoction at my local park every weekend.

Smaller communities at NYU

Though NYU is the largest private university in the United States, I’ve found a sense of belonging through smaller communities, like clubs. I initially felt overwhelmed walking up and down the booths at Club Fest at the Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for University Life, but immediately gravitated toward the booth with the Mexican flag taped to it. My hometown El Paso is commonly referred to as the borderland because 82.9% of the population is Hispanic or Latine —  when the E-Board of NYU MexSA told me they love honoring Mexican culture, it made me feel like I could turn to a supportive community.

On the flip side, NYU Parliamentary Debate Union has helped me develop the skills for my major, since I plan to combine environmental science and politics on the pre-law track. These clubs — both socially and professionally — so far have allowed me to meet people with similar goals as I step out of my comfort zone.

Family time

As classes started, I intensely navigated the hustle-and-bustle of college and the city; however, taking the time out of my day to call home is a way that I balance education and home. My advice: multi-task. I set aside an hour each for my mom, dad and sister every day. My mom and I get ready for the day together. She makes breakfast while I pack my bag for classes. My sister, a sophomore in high school, and I do our homework and chat together. I end the day with dinner, calling my dad while he’s on his way to work.

On days when I’m really busy, we will do group FaceTimes. Simple FaceTime calls, silly pictures of my dog or care packages have all worked as reminders of my home and identity.

Two cents from other first-years

My biggest piece of advice would be to not be afraid to meet new people. Introduce yourself and talk to everyone you can! This does not mean all of the people you come across will stick, but it does help with learning how to socially adapt to a new environment and deal with rejection.

I decided to reach out to Gallatin first-year Alma Seda Gonzalez, who I met during NYU Welcome. A text saying “hey” through Snapchat jumpstarted my journey to making NYU into my home away from home. We made plans to go to Caffè Reggio, on Macdougal between 3rd Street and Minetta Lane. As we continued to sip on our iced oat milk lattes and talk about our lives, our friendship began to blossom. I realized that I was not the only one feeling homesick and detached from their culture.

“I like to think about why I wanted to come to NYU and all the opportunities I’ll have, while still acknowledging that I miss my life at home,” Seda-Gonzalez said. “Just try to stay connected to your family in the ways that best work for you whether it’s texting, calling them but just make sure you have the balance of moving forward with your life and growing up … I also feel like everyone at NYU is trying to find a sense of community but somehow we just haven’t done it.”

Some days are harder than others, but simple reminders of home and the comfort of the community around me make them better; I hope they’ll help you too. 

Contact Leeann Mclemore at [email protected]