Old Stomping Grounds Made New

I spent about two hours wandering across UC Berkeley campus alone this weekend.

It’s been five proper months since I last spent this much time on campus, and back then, I was running from one building to another, dropping off last-minute forms and meeting professors for one final time. My mind was focused on tasks, knowing but not quite realizing that I was enjoying my final precious moments as a student wholly integrated with her campus.

As a recent grad, my feet were still tempted to take me back on those familiar, old paths. From Morrison Hall to Wheeler, up and around to Main Stacks, back down Sproul and curving toward Haas Pavilion and the RSF — they were paths that I’d worn into the soles of my feet after four years of monotonously retracing my steps.

It would’ve been second nature to let myself follow those routes. But like any other Berkeley grad, I left campus with a relatively long, unaccomplished bucket list — of which one of the items was to go to every library and/or building on campus — so I forced myself to take the unfamiliar turns.

Photo by Courtney Cheng

I didn’t realize how many habits had been ingrained into my mind after four years of being a student on autopilot. It was actually a challenge to tell my brain to take the path less traveled.

But I was rewarded for my efforts: I discovered Hilgard Hall and the declaration on its front face. I said my second “hello” to Tolman Hall (the first was during my CalSO session, before I was even a student). I saw the infamous fence around University House, and then followed Strawberry Creek up to the steps of Giannini Hall.

The last time I was at Giannini was for a photoshoot for Spoon University at Berkeley. The doors had been locked at the time, so we sadly couldn’t take advantage of the interior aesthetics. It’s only now that I realize how much of a shame it was. (Is it bad that I already don’t remember which semester this photoshoot was anymore?)

Photo by Courtney Cheng

My walk took me back to Lower Sproul, where I — for the second time, ever — sat on the new benches scattered between the MLK Student Union and Eshleman Hall.

PSA: They’re actually quite comfortable, and I very happily spent the good part of an hour there, listening to music, enjoying the weather, and reading the news on my phone. (Major regrets that I didn’t do this when I was a student.)

For that hour, I suddenly felt like I was home again.

When I first moved out of my apartment in July, I felt Berkeley-homesick. I tried to visit Berkeley as much as I could to see friends who were still students or had stayed in the area, but each time, I felt a little more and more disconnected from Berkeley. I distinctly felt like I no longer belonged there, and it was fairly upsetting.

I’d come to refer to Berkeley as home, and had wanted to make Berkeley my “home home” even before I became a student there. It hurt that my chosen home was now rejecting me.

This weekend was the first time I returned to Berkeley as a grad and felt like I was finally being welcomed back. It wasn’t the same “home” as it’d been for the past four years — I definitely do not miss carrying around a backpack all day — but it was sweet and familiar, in a “Hey, I’m still here,” sort of way.

Photo by Courtney Cheng

It’s taken me a long time to figure out why Berkeley is only now beginning to feel like a potential home again, and it’s taken me an even longer time to come to terms with this myself.

When a lot of things in life are unsettled, it’s easy to want to fall back into the old and the familiar, even they’re no longer yours to have. And being aware of this gap, the one between what you want and what’s actually yours, makes you feel unwelcome in any space you occupy. But it is possible to separate the nostalgia of past routines with the desire of returning to a space you love. And once that distinction is made, then it is by all means possible, to finally go back home.

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