I ran down the street, heels patting against the pavement, in a t-shirt and shorts with the sun beating down on my forehead. Hot days always seem to outnumber cold days in Austin, Texas even in January and I knew that would be the last time I would get to run the familiar neighborhood route. I met a friend downtown late that evening. We went to a local favorite food trailer. I said my final goodbye to her and the next morning, kissed the self-proclaimed weird city I’ve called home for nearly 20 years goodbye. I headed to Fort Collins for another semester, but this time was different. I did not know where or what to call home.
With my family moving to a different state, I’ve come to realize that home is never really a location or place of residence. And yet most students have congregated back to Fort Collins for 16 weeks from some location they probably label home. College students seem to be in this transitory phase where “home” becomes blurred by split locations, residences, friend-groups, and other identity markers. Even if you grew up in Fort Collins and go to CSU, home can be your dorm, an apartment, or the house in which you grew up. Additionally, you probably have distinct groups of your college friends and your high school friends as well as family that make “home” a difficult place to define.
In this crazy, whirlwind of a winter break where I went to all my favorite local restaurants, said final goodbyes to friends, and performed seemingly menial rituals like running that familiar route, I have been forced to face the question of what really makes home home.
I’ve considered the popular and perhaps hackneyed adage “home is where the heart is” as an answer, but it doesn’t seem to cut it. Our hearts can be strung across cities, states, countries, and the globe with people we love and places we’d like to see again. Austin will always have a piece of my heart with its infamous live music scene and festivals, its own invented food genre called TexMex, and its Friday night football culture that looks more like a religion than a pastime. However, I no longer call Austin home simply because I don’t live there anymore and home is not where my family moved because that place is foreign to me.
With family dispersed across the country, my residence bouncing between addresses, and my heart flung across the globe, it seems I can’t point to where “home” is on the map. Many college students are in this same boat, perhaps you are too, and while this may seem like an adventure to some, I’ve found that most get weary of the instability. I certainly have, but as I unpacked my suitcase and prepared for another semester I realized that home is wherever I’m planted. It is also more about attitude than location.
My feet walk across campus and Old Town, I ride the bus, I do the everyday ins-and-outs of life in Fort Collins. This is where I am and in order make this place truly home, I must invest. The places we go and see and live mean something to us based on the memories, adventures, and experiences we had at those locations. Therefore, home becomes more than a location. It becomes about experiences and people and community, and Fort Collins is bursting with opportunities not to simply survive, but to thrive.
Old Town shenanigans and exploring on a Friday night with friends might be a good place to start, and if you’re like me, you’ll stop into every coffee shop and end up mapping out every coffee shop within a three mile radius of the university. You might end up pulling a mid-week all-nighter at the Alley Cat and sharing a table with the random and fascinating homeless guy at 3 in the morning. And who knows, you might just sign up for the Horsetooth Half Marathon because why not run up the side of a mountain? The place is nicknamed Fort Fun for a reason and I always keep my fingers crossed for the rare, but occasional snow day because sledding down a mound of snow in the lagoon is the best way to spend the extra time. In my humble opinion, it should be an Olympic Sport.
My point is that in my short year and half here, Fort Collins has become more than where I go to school or live. It has truly become home because of the people and you and the experiences, and what better place to point to on the map as home?