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.

Helping.

Last week was one of those weeks. You know, the kind of week when I said things like “I miss grad school, when things used to be simple and easy”. Which must mean that I was delusional, because grad school was neither simple nor easy. I returned from the beautiful lull of a three day weekend, with fresh memories of  sand, surf, seafood, and late summer sun, and BAM. Tuesday was basically a brick wall. And the rest of the week followed suit. I wound my way through a labyrinth of mental health concerns, conduct meetings, roommate conflicts, confrontation, awkwardness, and tears shed on my university-issued office couch. Even when I was just trying to do an innocent door-to-door program, I found students smoking pot.  By Friday afternoon, I was making wagers with colleagues about how long building improvement projects would take (which is obviously a form of reckless escapism).

But guess what? I DID IT. I did it. Issue after issue, and I just kept going. It was like a whack-a-mole game and I nailed every single one of those moles right on the head. I know that’s a really weird analogy. And yes, things happened that are outside of my control. Not everything ended up rainbows and unicorns last week because my job is about real stuff that happens in young people’s lives. Human emotions, impulses, conflict, identity crises, transition, transformation, and life are never going to be clean and pretty.

My job is not clean and pretty. Sometimes it seems thankless. Other people in the “outside world” ask me if I want to be doing what I’m doing, as if it’s impossible that I went to grad school with the goal of becoming a residence hall director. Yes, I went to grad school so that I could do this challenging, time-consuming job that requires I live in a residence hall at age 24.  And last week was the kind of week that makes you ask “Why exactly am I doing this, again?”. Thankfully, I have answers.

After dealing with a mental health concern, I told a colleague “I went into this field for a reason; because I want to help people.”  I said it off the cuff, as an explanation for my calm and focus under pressure, but in that moment, I realized that is my explanation. That’s my reason. When the chips are on the table, when I’m tired, when I’m going “above and beyond”, I’m not doing it because I think it’s going to advance my career, get me recognition, or even a thank you. I’m doing it because I feel an intense obligation to make other people’s lives better. I’m doing it because there are people who helped me in college, who listened to me when I was upset, who offered me opportunities and hope. I do it because I don’t want anyone to ever feel alone. I do it because I want these students to make it through college. I don’t want anyone who feels like they need help to not have help.

I’ve said many times that my philosophy in life is to ask myself at the end of each day if I’ve helped someone. And that’s it; at the end of the day, after all of the student development theories, history, law, organizational context, educational philosophy and what have you, it’s about helping people and doing the right thing.

About Me

I am a graduate student Higher Education and Assistant Community Coordinator for Residence Life at the University of Maine. I am interested in orientation and new student programs, residential education, first year student development, and diversity and social justice on college campuses, specifically related to social justice ally development, access to higher education, and transition and retention of traditionally underrepresented students.

I am also an active member of the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), as a Graduate Associate, Region I Conference intern, and member of the Maine Association for Student Affairs Professionals.  I enjoy sharing my love of the profession with aspiring undergraduates, increasing awareness of professional opportunities, and sharing knowledge with my peers.

I am a native Rhode Islander and adopted Mainer with a love for cooking, college hockey, and the outdoors. I am a proud Gamma Sigma Sigma alumna and a Black Bear at heart. My philosophy in life is to ask myself every day if I have helped someone.

This blog is the next step in my goal to use the online world to the best of my abilities in my work. I have gained incredibly from the online Student Affairs Communities on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and I am excited to take the next step with an official website of my own.

So, should you choose to follow my adventures here, what will you find? I can promise lots of insights about change and transition, loosely detailed chronicles of my job searching, musings on social justice, privilege, and oppression, the trials and tribulations of residence life and working with first year students, and anything else higher ed that crosses my path. A bit of a grab bag, isn’t it? You can’t blame me, though, because I’m the new kid. I’m still figuring this all out!