Living Close to Home

By Amanda Gee

Kelly Clarkson’s song “Breakaway” accurately captures my high school mindset: I’m living in a small town and waiting to break away into a bigger life. My ideal life didn’t have a specific dream or ambition, but it did have a location: far, far, far away. As far from home as possible. As far from the Bay Area as possible. UC Berkeley barely made my “good college” list, squeezed between universities at least eight hours away by car or by plane.

But when admissions letters came out and different factors came up, UC Berkeley proved to be the best choice. I sent in my SIR (statement of intent to register), said “goodbye” to my friends, and got into my parents’ minivan for the twenty minute trek to a university as close to home as a community college. (My dad didn’t tell me until after much later that he was glad that he didn’t have to pay for airplane tickets.) From high school to college, my thumbtack on the map of the US had moved the smallest increment to the north. My friends’ college destinations seemed so much more exciting and fantastically far as they jetted off to SoCal, the East Coast, and Canada.

A month later my birthday came along. A friend drove me home so I could spend the weekend with my family and blow out my birthday candles. I hadn’t experienced the notorious freshman year homesickness, but I was happy to see my parents and younger sister. I remember not being able to sleep later that night. Despite the fact that my bedroom easily beat my dormitory in comfort level, that familiar high school restlessness nagged me. However, there was an unexpected added restlessness: I missed Berkeley.

I had grown used to the noise of a college dorm that the calm of home seemed too still. Geographically, I had not moved much. At the same time, “college life at UC Berkeley” differed from “home life in a small town” in terms of world and culture. My first day as a lost freshman found me wandering along Strawberry Creek that runs right through campus. My student pass let me hop on any bus and go to the Berkeley Marina, Emeryville, and San Francisco. My new foodie friends introduced me to North Side’s “Gourmet Ghetto” and argued about the best boba tea places.

Now as a junior, I have grown to love Berkeley. This is helped in part by my SoCal or out of state friends’ exclamations about the beauty of the Bay Area and the pleasantness of the weather. Their perspectives helped me revise my frustrated “I got to get out of here” mindset that associates Berkeley with “hometown.”

My close proximity to home also allowed me to be present with my family. My mom joked that it wasn’t worth sending care packages to my dorm: just come home and be fed and bring the leftovers back to school, plus some much needed snacks. Our house opens up at Thanksgiving for my different out of state friends. Sometimes I wake up to text messages telling me that my aunt and uncle are watching a movie or trying out a new restaurant and would I like to join them. My then-at-college older brother assigned me the task of reminding our younger sister that she was not an only child. Because I live close to home, I have witnessed my sister become a teenager and I am able to offer her support as someone who has gone through those years.

Living close to home brings its own pressures: how much time should I spend at home? Am I missing out with my friends at Berkeley? In terms of right now, the “what if” that nagged me the first semester of freshman year has died down to a settled satisfaction that I made the right choice in coming to UC Berkeley, my home away from home.

Originally published at on February 22, 2016.