My Existential Crisis of “Home”: Where am I from?

“Where are you from?”

This is a seemingly simple question to which I routinely respond with complicated answers. Most inquirers are just being polite or trying to ascertain some small amount of information about where I live. However, they usually end up with significantly greater detail than expected.

My answer  and corresponding internal dialogue usually goes something like this:

“Well, I guess I’m from Connecticut now” (that response inspires confidence; I guess? My driver’s license and the plates on my car sure seem to think I’m from Connecticut)

“I live there. In Storrs. Actually… at UConn.” (I don’t want this person to think that I just moved out to rural Eastern Connecticut in my mid-twenties to live a quiet country life or something)

I live at UConn, but I’m not a student. I’m a residence hall director. So I live on campus, but it’s not like, a dorm room. It’s a real apartment…in a residence hall.” (They need to know that I’m a real live grown-up. Maybe I should mention again that I’m not a student. I have a kitchen!)

“But I’m originally from Rhode Island! From outside of Providence.” (Now they know who I really am!)

“And I lived in Maine for six years while I was in school.” (Haha! Wildcard! Betcha didn’t see that coming.)

My long-winded explanations, of course, stem from my own confusion about “home” and where I am rooted at this juncture in my life. Numerous factors contribute, not the least of which is my somewhat unique position of living on a college campus because of my job. After two years in Connecticut, I feel that I owe my experience as a resident there some level of recognition, but that recognition is almost always qualified by explanations.

For me, “where are you from?” is a question that has very little to do with geography. It has to do with values, context, and history. The name or location of a place tells a story (accurate or otherwise) about the person who lives there. It would seem that I find my story complicated enough that it cannot be condensed into one single locale. It would also seem that I see my current, employment-related residence as not quite worthy of full “home” status.

I enjoy my job and where I currently live, and I’ve put in a lot of effort over the past two years to build a sense of connection and belonging there, but I think that I will always have some dissonance in explaining where I am from as long as I live on campus. As long as I live on campus, my home is defined by my job, and I am unwilling to reduce my definition as a person to my job. So for now, I’ll continue to confuse new acquaintances at social gatherings by embracing my multifaceted, trans-state definition of “home.” I don’t exist in just one place and neither does my story.


The Hypocrisy of ResLife: RA Training

I recently surfaced from the Student Affairs gauntlet known as ResLife Training and Residence Hall Opening. It’s the time of year when I say goodbye to absolutely everything else in my life except for work. I worked 7 days a week for three weeks, typically logging 12-14 hour days. This level of work is actually an improvement over past years, when I was less efficient, less experienced, and spent more time in the office.

To non-Reslifers, this may be a surprise. To any sane person who wishes to have a life outside of work, this may seem odd. It won’t seem odd to my fellow live-in residence hall staff.

It should be odd, though. At what point in the history of ResLife did we decide that this marathon model of staff training and hall opening was okay? This is certainly not unique to one institution. It’s very common that a couple of weeks of very intensive student staff training (which is exhausting for everyone involved) is immediately followed by freshman move in day and upperclass move in days. This is just how the end of August is when you work in ResLife. August is where balance and wellness go to die.

I believe that we need to critically question the efficacy of this model of staff training. We are, after all, educators. We promote the holistic development of mind and body in college students. We talk about wellness, balance, and ideal learning environments. And we train RAs as if we are running student affairs boot camp. It just doesn’t add up.

How do we examine our practices within the context of the values and priorities that we aim to espouse throughout the year? How do we challenge our own selves as professional staff to stand firm in work-life balance and pursuit of wellness? How do we advocate for balance and wellness?

This is a call to all of my colleagues who think we can do better than we are doing. It’s a call to those who think that they are doing it better. We owe it to ourselves and our students to think about this. So tell me your thoughts: How do we shift the paradigm of ResLife training?