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Imagine looking at an eternal blue sky, open steppe with sheep and goats grazing on the grass, a few yurts scattered over an enormous land, and horses roaming freely. Then imagine a busy city with a monastery amongst a few modern skyscrapers, many historical buildings, and suffocating air pollution in the winter, caused by the burning of coal.
Both images come to me when I think of home. The breathtaking nature of the Mongolian countryside and the vibrant city of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The summer before coming to Harvard, I tried to fill my head with as many images of my city and countryside as possible, relishing the warmest comfort I find in the place I grew up in. When the time came to board a plane to fly 6195 miles and say goodbye to everything I associate with home, I could not help but cry and dread the homesickness that would surely hit me once I left. But little did I know that this very homesickness could deter me from growing for the better when taken too far. Although the change was drastic and it was totally fine to take time to figure things out, I got too caught up in missing my previous home but not actually forming a new home at Harvard.
Cambridge, with its unpredictable weather and busy streets, and Harvard, with its intimidating reputation and limitless opportunities, were cold, uncomfortable, and daunting. Everything from the way people greeted each other to the level of awareness on societal issues like mental health was different. In the midst of all this strangeness, I craved comfort. Thoughts of home invaded my mind in the strangest moments. I would daydream of my beloved street in Ulaanbaatar while walking in the Yard and listen to Mongolian throat singing while doing laundry. Pangs of longing for my home on the other side of the world were persistent.
I am certain that many students at Harvard, especially freshmen, can relate to this feeling of homesickness, albeit in different forms and amounts. Most of us miss home, but at the same time, we all want to form our new home here at Harvard.
Throughout this ongoing period of homesickness, I’ve realized that although it is crucial to allow ourselves to miss home and take our time settling in, we must be self-aware enough to recognize when this homesickness is keeping us from functioning at our best. The balance is, of course, difficult to get right, but the line for me was when I was spending more time missing home than actually engaging with my surroundings.
Feelings of disconnection and loneliness led me to seek refuge in the place I grew up in. During those times, I closed myself unnecessarily, allowing the moments at Harvard to pass before me without being fully present. By living in an imaginary, idealized version of my distant home, I’ve become absentminded and detached from my activities here. Yearning to finish the semester and go home has prevented me from growing and fully immersing myself in the completely uncomfortable but rewarding place that is Harvard.
This realization has allowed me to become more proactive and find comfort in my daily life. Even though Harvard is unlike Ulaanbaatar, the Yard’s stunning colors in autumn absolutely captivate me and the tourists happily taking pictures fill my heart with warmth. I love Annenberg food and the familiar faces of staff and fellow freshmen, who make me look forward to dining hall meals. Although aches of loneliness creep in every now and then, coming back to Canaday and my roommates after a long day feels like returning to my safe haven at Harvard.
So I leave a note to myself and others who might be struggling with homesickness — allow yourself to feel the nostalgia of home, but also be conscious of the amount of energy put into dwelling too much on the familiar. I miss home, but I am trying to derive strength from my cherished home to be braver in my endeavors at Harvard.
After all, if our goal is to grow into better versions of ourselves during college, we must be willing to plunge into the uncomfortable and unknown. These days, I happily listen to Mongolian throat singing while walking to class, with renewed strength found in my background and excitement for all I will be learning at Harvard. I hope that next time I return to my lively city in the land of blue skies, I will also miss my new home — home amidst milder winter and warm people I have been lucky to encounter here.
Javhlan Amgalanbaatar ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Canaday Hall. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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