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09/06/2012 01:56 pm ET | Updated Nov 06, 2012

"At least you'll be close to home!" That phrase dominated the weeks preceding my move to USC. Everyone believed that living close by was a considerable perk in college and I very much agreed. I took comfort in knowing that home was close by if I needed it... also, it kept my parents sane. The night before the move, I spoke with a sophomore friend of mine who was moving back the next morning. I asked if he was sad to be leaving home and his response sparked in me an internal debate that would rage for weeks. "It was nice to be back but honestly, I've come to think of USC as my home at this point." For some reason, the statement jarred me. Up until that moment, the move to college seemed like an extended version of summer camp. School wasn't a home; it was a place for me to explore when I was away from home... right?

Home?

As I threw my remaining clothes in a suitcase, I really started thinking about the concept of home. We've all heard it: "Home is where the heart is." If that's the case, my heart is lurking in some interesting places. Whenever I smell fresh spinach pie, I'm home. If I hear any song from the album Jagged Little Pill, I'm home. When my parents argue about whether I'm going too fast or too slow on the highway, I'm home. Yet these things are unique to me. Be it a person, place, activity, memory or idea, the notion of home is different for everyone, and I couldn't help but wonder... would I/could I ever consider college my own home?

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The next day, once my bags were unpacked and my parents were gone, I took a moment to look around my new residence. My dorm was absolutely nothing like my room... no bunnies, no blue curtains, no queen-sized bed. My actual family had been replaced by photos on the walls and my stuffed animals were now posters of Audrey and Marilyn. Was it me? Yes. Was it home? Not quite. I couldn't hear my dad's booming voice from down the hall and I could no longer ask my mom if my outfit was cute enough to be seen in. At that moment in time, the possibility of this shoebox room becoming my home looked dim, but I put on my brave face and concluded that only time would tell.

Welcome week was all action. I met person after person and went to countless parties, shows, dances, etc. I loved every second of it. The campus was beautiful, the classes were riveting and the people were wonderful. Still, despite the fun I was having and things I was learning, I couldn't bring myself to call it home. There was a crucial element missing that I just couldn't put my finger on, and I desperately wanted to feel it. I longed for my bunnies and ruffles. I even wanted my mom's over-excessive calls (kind of). I needed to click my heels together and whisper, "there's no place like home" until that feeling of security came rushing back to me... but I knew that there was no Glinda to help me here, even if I was majoring in theater.

Last night, I went to visit my friend and found her on her bed in tears. Before I could ask the question, she turned to me and said, "Homesick." We spent the next hour talking about that missing feeling that I realized we all shared. We talked about our families, our friends, our old lives, and soon enough the sadness turned to fondness. One by one our friends came in to say goodnight and soon the room was filled with girls, all laughing and commiserating about our great and not-so-great high school experiences. It wasn't until about 1:00 a.m. that I turned to my roommate and unconsciously said, "It's getting pretty late... we should probably go home soon." I was taken aback by my own words. Somehow in the course of those few hours, my dorm room had turned into a home. At the time I wasn't sure what had changed, but after reflecting on the situation, I have a good idea of what happened.

I do not claim to understand what home really is... only what it is to me. It's not a place, it's not a person, and it's not even a feeling. To me, home is the unconscious understanding that I am free to be myself. Sometimes that means sitting in a familiar place alone and sometimes it means laughing in a completely new place with friends. Either way, one thing has become very clear: college can become a home.

... and if I really need my dad's booming voice, I can always give him a call. (Or open a window.)

xo

Autumn

Photo by Karen Ray

Originally published on CarpoolCoutureAndCocktails