Our Place is in the Home

Harvard students might benefit from a little more time spent in our hometowns

Throughout the course of a year of procrastinatory nighttime runs to CVS, I discovered that many of the evening workers there are Haitian. Coincidentally, so am I. The fact that I have a Haitian grandfather may seem, to some, an odd thing to bond me to the CVS employees. I thought so at first, too. At the beginning of the year, I would grab my soda and poptarts, exchange a brief greeting in French with the cashier, and go back to my dorm and my studies without another thought. Each time I came to CVS, I was struck by how glad the Haitian employees were to see me. The year wore on and our French greetings turned to lengthier French banter, and still I could not understand why our acquaintance should bring them such joy. Then I realized that they were probably homesick. That it was nice to have someone to talk with about familiar things, like plantains, and Creole, and warm weather. My next revelation was that seeing my friends at CVS also brought me joy, and that it was presumably because I was just as homesick as they were.

At Harvard, almost all of us live far from home. For the class of 2012, 82.6% of students come from outside New England, with 11.7% coming from outside of the United States. While it makes for a more varied student body than one would meet at most state schools, Harvard’s geographical diversity contributes to a certain amount of loneliness. There are times when all we really want is a sandwich from a local restaurant back home or the face of a friend from high school, even if we didn’t particularly like that restaurant or person when we actually lived at home. It is this longing for things associated with our distant homes that, upon meeting other people from our towns or areas, prompts us to flush with pleasure and ask if they know this person, remember that park, grew up watching the same commercials.

After a time, our lives at Harvard take on the same aura of familiarity as our homes. We begin to associate the streets and shops of Cambridge with the people we have loved here. But our college lives are transient in a way that most home lives are not. We change rooms every year like a game of musical chairs, change friends, pack up, move in, move out. Harvard may provide us with many things our homes do not, but permanence is not one of them.

As homesick as many of us are, we have a strange way of showing it. We may rejoice in meeting someone from our home state in class, but then we will choose to pursue an internship in New York for the summer and only visit this beloved home state for a week. Of all Harvard obsessions, the summer internship frenzy has always struck me as one of the most puzzling. We spend our summers fighting AIDs in Africa or taking organic chemistry, come home for just long enough to get a few nights of sleep, and then return here. And those of us who did spend the summer at home will often look at our toes upon hearing the glamorous exploits of our fellows, and murmur, “I just stayed home.”

Staying home for the summer is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not an indication of laziness or lack of skill. Rather, it satisfies a desire that we often feel but rarely give in to, a desire for routine and a slower pace. When it comes down to it, how many of us would rather spend the summer filing papers and making coffees for some gigantic corporation than going to our sister’s graduation or our cousin’s wedding? Not everyone has the opportunity to go back home for such important events in their families’ lives—the CVS workers, I’m sure, cannot go back to Haiti half as much as they would like, if at all. I cannot understand why those of us who have the means are so reluctant to return to the places we are from.

There really is no place quite like home. After all, for Frodo, none of the wonders of Middle Earth could compare to the Shire. All Odysseus wanted was to get back to Ithaca. And who could forget the click of Dorothy’s red shoes?

Marina S. Magloire ’11, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Kirkland House.