Winter Homecoming

20150103_050500Two trains, a three-hour Megabus ride, and a refreshing, reassuring rundown of fourteen subway stations later, I descended those creaky metro escalators once again with a hefty luggage behind and bundle of roses in hand. Home is still the same old basket of good eggs and rough breads—the brisk yet brewing scent of suburbia air, the grunt of buses hurrying between clamorous, convivial Washington streets ten past twelve, and the medley of exotic eateries a few dollars too expensive.
I spotted my best friend waving from the opposite platform when a smile seeped involuntarily through my cheeks. This is the ultimate boon of homecoming—reunion with ones who we walked with through our coming of age, the ones who stood beside as we weathered through triumph and disappointment, the ones who embraced us during every stage of life. Stories of the past three months percolated through the spicy Sichuan flounder and savory spring rolls—delicacies absent from the vicinity of Princeton—as we digested the past, chewed the present, and pondered what’s to come. But the dinner needed no words, the blessing of old friendships lingering in the air was enough to make us the happiest creatures of the moment.
An hour later I arrived at the doorsteps to my house. Home still had the same clutter and worn down windows as I left it. It was still a couple degrees colder than comfortable, a familiar strategy to conserve utility bills. Pa ran down from upstairs to take my bags as my stomach churned with queasiness observing that the streak of grey in his hair had grown into a patch. He then took out a fresh, sweet tangerine from the half-filled fridge as we sat by the kitchen counter and giggled about quirky professors and freshmen difficulties. I had to suppress the tears though—his genuine excitement warmed me, yet I knew he still played the same Chinese records every morning these past three months en route to delivering newspapers while I enjoyed a more-or-less privileged life.
My mom had left the door to my room wide ajar before I stumbled inside and collapsed onto my bed. It was then that I realized how much I had missed this place. Though without the luxury of Gothic windows and grandeur of Hogwartz-proportion dining halls, this room of my own sheltered me during every period of turbulence. There is a simple sincerity here, a sincerity that has motivated me throughout the past few years.
The interrogation of the tiger mother did not come until later. The latter half of break brought me to my high school, former classmates, and many teachers whose eyes lit-up at the sight of our visit.
As a friend once said, college is not only a place, but a time. There’s a time to be there and a point when we should leave. Every now and then, stepping out from the bubble and tracing our roots will give us a clearer idea of our aspirations, our values, and the person we want to be.

Jessica Li, Quest Scholar, Princeton ’18