Finding Home

I've been a college graduate for two years now, and post-grad life still doesn't feel quite right. I miss being on a college campus. I miss learning and devouring textbooks. I miss the mountains of Harrisonburg. I miss living in a small town. I miss being part of a close-knit community. There are so many things I miss about JMU. It's easy to immerse yourself in nostalgia. It's also easy to drown in it, flailing around for the life you used to know and rejecting the one you're currently living. It's a constant battle - appreciating those precious memories while charging forward into the future with optimism and grace.

It's been awhile since I've felt sentimental about my college years. I visited JMU's campus today to take graduation photos of my friend Cassandra, which sparked the sudden wave of nostalgia. She wore a cute beautiful floral dress and aztec wedges, her purple gown drifting in the wind behind her like a majestic cape. Believe it or not, it feels like I was doing the exact same thing just yesterday - posing in front of Wilson Hall, throwing my cap into the air and rejoicing in the endless possibilities that lay before me. But it wasn't yesterday. It wasn't even last year. It's been two years since I walked across the stage with my diploma in hand. Does the nostalgia ever fade? Does post-grad life ever begin to feel normal? 

These are questions I still can't answer. However, over the past two years, I've realized why I loved JMU so deeply. It's simple, really. Harrisonburg was my home. I spent three years walking through campus, sitting diligently in classrooms (or skipping class on sunny days and laying on the quad), spending time with my roommates and loving my university with all my heart. The roads of Harrisonburg were ingrained in my mind, and the spirit of the school was ingrained in my soul.

While Harrisonburg was morphing into my home, Virginia Beach was fading into the past. It no longer felt like home when I visited on the weekends. My parents moved to a smaller house, and the walls of my designated guest bedroom were bare. Returning to Harrisonburg was comforting. It was my city. Not because I grew up there and not because it had to be, but because I picked JMU from a handful of college acceptances, and I formed a life there. I had friends that felt like family, professors that treated me like a daughter, and a community that constantly held their arms open when I slipped off track.

Finding a home after college can be a difficult process. I moved back to Virginia Beach for a year and a half before I decided to move to Richmond, and it was quite a shock to the system. It never felt like I was in the right place. My hometown felt stagnant. Sure, I had a physical home, but I didn't have the support system or the community to feel like I really belonged there.

Moving to Richmond five months ago was a fresh start. The streets and sights were brand new, unblemished and pure. I spent a good two months devouring the city. However, the area has left me wanting. I still have fun exploring, scoping out hole-in-the-wall restaurants and traveling to nearby cities on the weekends, but my gut feeling of disinterest has me plotting another future move.

In just a few months, I will be relocating to Seattle. I know, I know. If I want a city to feel like home, why do I keep moving around? I can't really explain why I keep jumping from city to city or why I grow antsy after being in the same area for more than a few months. In addition to my innate desire to see the world, I think I'm searching for the perfect city. Or really, the perfect city for me. My next home. The next town to fill my heart with joy and contentment as Harrisonburg once did. It might not be my cross-country move. It might not even be the city after that. But I know that every place I spend time in is leading me closer and closer to the place I need to be. And for me, that's enough.

Harrisonburg, Virginia

Harrisonburg holds a very special place in my heart. When I first stepped foot on the James Madison University campus as a college freshman, I was skeptical of the city's small town charm. The four hour drive to school, laden with rural scenery and empty fields, slightly worried me. Interstate 81 held acres of farmland, herds of cows and rolling mountains. Deer were scattered along the side of the highway. Semi-trucks thundered down the road, and every exit seemed to lead to the middle of nowhere. It wasn't very enticing. I became so disheartened that I considered transferring to a different university after fall semester. I decided to give it another shot, however, which turned out to be the best decision I've ever made. Three years later, when I walked across the stage at graduation in my purple cap and gown, Harrisonburg had morphed into my home.

Being a college freshman was hard. I wasn't allowed to bring my car to school, which limited my ability to explore - something I really loved to do. Fortunately, sophomore year presented freedom. I moved into an apartment off-campus and returned in the fall with a trusty set of wheels. Along with transportation came glorious convenience. I finally realized small towns can hold just as many opportunities for adventure as big cities do, especially when you have a way to get around. I used this fact to my advantage and began to explore all that Harrisonburg had to offer.

One of my first discoveries was Downtown Harrisonburg. I quickly grew enamored with its large variety of small cafes, clothing shops and rowdy bars. The area was small but incredibly charming. Some noteworthy local favorites were: The Artful Dodger for a cup of coffee, Jack Brown's on a Friday night for their mind-blowing Greg Brady burger, and Clementine Cafe for live music and cocktails. The area was cozy and quirky and beautiful, especially when the leaves started changing colors in the fall. And when it snowed? Don't even get me started. My apartment was located a short drive from the area, which I loved.

My second discovery was Harrisonburg's close proximity to several unique landscapes. The most memorable was Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Michael and I spent weekend after weekend driving through the narrow mountain roads, admiring the skyline at every overlook and eating lunch at various campsites. We also managed to visit the Natural Chimneys, Lake Shenandoah, the Natural Bridge, and Reddish Knob. In addition, Charlottesville and Washington D.C. were close enough to visit frequently. We traveled around the state of Virginia often, exploring various cities and constantly researching new places to see.

The best discovery of all, however, took place throughout the duration of my three years in Harrisonburg. I discovered the beauty in simplicity. I discovered that in order to be happy, you must bloom where you are planted. I discovered how deeply I had fallen in love with JMU's gorgeous campus. The bluestone academic buildings, the newly renovated football stadium, the train that regularly rolled through campus, Open Mic nights at TDU, the phenomenal dining halls (they're ranked #2 in the nation!), East Campus Library, and the picturesque Quad. It felt like home. It was home. I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. 

Even more important than my surroundings were the amazing friendships that developed. My roommates felt like sisters, and my capacity to meet new people soared. JMU's remarkably friendly environment drew me out of my shell, and by senior year, I found myself participating in activities I never would've imagined when I was a timid freshman. JMU taught me how to learn and how to love, but best of all, JMU taught me how to feel alive. 

During my college career, my passion for adventure amplified. I learned how to explore when opportunities for exploration seemed scarce. I learned how to adjust to a new city with new people, and I fought through inconceivable difficulties before emerging victoriously on the other side. I learned how to nurture lifelong friendships and create new ones from scratch. I learned how to care for myself while simultaneously caring for others. I went through an incredible period of growth, one that changed my life forever. I have Harrisonburg, and JMU in particular, to thank for that.