01/06/2012 10:19 am ET

College Freshman: 'Coming Home Made Me Realize How Much I Changed'

Christian is a student at Northwestern University and a college contributor to The Mash, a weekly teen publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.

Dorothy Gale was right when she said there was no place like home. Believe in the truth of those words because they stick with you from the time you’re in kindergarten watching The Wizard of Oz for the first time until you’re a world-weary college student.

However, it took me some time to realize that.

It only took two days at Northwestern University to convince me that never seeing home again might not be the worst possible fate. Sure, home is great and all, but that four-year cycle of the same high school names and faces seems pale and lifeless next to the explosion of colorful people, ideas and experiences that is college.

As I started to lose myself in the swirling whirl of moment-to-moment college events, meeting new people, taking tougher classes, getting a job, joining all sorts of new activities, I felt myself changing and solidifying; my college experiences tweaked my personality. I didn’t transform into a new person so much as evolve into a better version of myself, but this still made the notion of homecoming seem a tad ridiculous. What use did the new Christian have for his old house, where the ghost of old Christian lingered?

That said, by the time Thanksgiving break rolled around, I was excited to come home again. Not just for my family’s tasty spread, but also because I was intensely curious to see if college had wrought the same changes in the souls of my friends as it had in mine.

And it had. I mean, I’m not telepathic or anything, but even on the surface I could tell how much fun people were having at college. Like me, they had changed subtly, and had become slightly better, more interesting versions of themselves.

It was really fun to see everyone again, to hang out and swap college stories as we sat eating burritos in the local Chipotle that been such a fixture of our high school lives. What I didn’t see at first was that Chipotle had undergone its own minute changes. The entire downtown La Grange area -- where I am originally from -- had. Chipotle had moved about a block down. Borders had closed, leaving only a huge, empty façade. And new, unfamiliar stores had popped up. Everyone and everything had changed, if only on a small level.

I expected home to be boring because I expected it to be familiar. And it was, for the most part. My sisters and parents looked exactly like I remembered them, and my cousin made the same great potatoes he makes every year for Thanksgiving. But it was different too. While I had been gone, one of my sisters had become a freshman in high school, and the other had joined cheerleading and started her college applications. My uncle had died, and my cousin’s wife was pregnant again.

Things had changed around me as much as they had within me. Based on the sophomores and juniors I know who now don’t even go home for Thanksgiving, I suspect this unfamiliarity will only grow from here.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t go home again. Home is special, and as much as things change there, home offers a sense of support that you can’t find anywhere else -- whether that’s college or elsewhere.

More stories from The Mash: