VISITING JMU AS AN ALUM



Recently I have been feeling really homesick in New York-- and that's not to say that there isn’t a bit of home for me in this new city because there is. M and I have moved in together, signed our own lease and started building our little home- as well as the fact that my new job with refinery has finally allowed me to feel settled and let my guard down for a bit. But even so, being someone who’s lived the last four years of her life in a very small college town, life in the big apple has taken all of the adjusting in the world.


With all of the change has come a lot of exhaustion- manifesting itself both physically and mentally. So the only logical thing to do when your cup is feeling a bit on the emptier side is to do whatever it takes to fill it back up. I knew that what I needed required me to take a break from the city for a few days and get back to my roots. I wanted to spend time not only with my family but with my friends, some of the people who had really made a big impact on my last year in school- lifting me up and supporting me. I knew that these people would give me the encouragement and positive energy I needed to feel rejuvenated and get back into the swing of things when I got home.


I booked a bus ticket home to Virginia and packed a suitcase, getting up at the crack of dawn this past Thursday to head out. M took me to the bus stop so I wouldn’t have to figure out which subways to change on alone in the midst of rush hour and I was grateful for the company. When the bus pulled up, I loaded my Mickey Mouse polka dot suitcase underneath and found a seat all the way in the back- spending most of the 7 hour drive listening to music and drifting in and out of sleep.


The ride was long on the way there and even longer on the way home but so incredibly worth it. I spent time with my family, and had home cooked meals again- proudly sporting my sorority t-shirts and other clothes that never seemed appropriate to wear in the city. I slept in and caught up on my sleep which is something I haven’t done properly in weeks. Don’t ask me why but we can never seem to get to sleep at a decent hour in the city. 6PM finish time for workdays with a varying subway commute home and we normally don’t cook until close to 7:30.


Time always seems to get away from us in the city. But time seemed slow and deliberate being back home. When I decided to drive to JMU for the day I found myself buzzing. I never thought I would miss it so much so soon, but here I was silently longing for the simplicity of college days- when my hardest decisions were what plans to make on Friday nights and my biggest frustrations were whether I had studied enough for my upcoming exam.


Now don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to be done with classes and tests and overly wild/ underwhelming college parties. But now those things are replaced with student debt, lack of longterm job security and the fear of whether or not I’ll be able to afford health insurance the following month. It’s nothing abnormal (I’m learning), and I know I’m not alone in the world with these fears. But they exist regardless and dealing with them all is very stressful.



Most people probably remember me saying how glad I was to be leaving Harrisonburg and how ready I was for the real world. I was never shy about it and probably spoke too confidently about leaving when I didn’t really know what I was in for. I think that I was ready because I had plans-no idea if they’d work out- but plans nonetheless. And somehow just the act of having plans would be enough to get me through any obstacle that life could throw in my path. Looking back at how I was only 5 months ago, I feel like a whole different person now. That old Hannah was so naive and didn’t realize that the real world would be a constant struggle. It would be a grand adventure and incredibly worth it-but a struggle nonetheless.


(Basically, the point of all of that is that if you are still in school, don’t wish it away like I did. Fully enjoy every last moment and event. Make sure you are taking it all in, because once you leave it’s never going to be exactly like it was ever again).



Even coming back felt weird in a way. I spent the day in the library with my friend Angelina, doing work and chatting. We were talking about how different things felt this year- us both having graduated back in May. She had stayed in Harrisonburg to continue her masters degree at JMU but even so agreed that it didn’t feel the same as being an undergrad on campus. There's something about knowing it’s time to move on, but not wanting to that makes it even harder. It didn’t feel like campus was mine anymore, the way it had felt for the last four years. It feels strange to even say that because honestly, how does a place go from feeling like home to feeling like somewhere you aren’t meant to be anymore? It’s a tough pill to swallow but I suppose its an important one.



We met up with a group of our study abroad friends for brunch, 9 of the original 26 Madison house residents from the Summer in London program 2017. Our group had always been a unique one- even the office of international programs had agreed. Most study abroad groups didn’t continue to have reunions after returning, but ours was faithful and consistent-arranging holiday gift exchanges and potlucks, supporting each others activities and shows.


Our group was made up of people from all different backgrounds, interests, degree programs. People who may have never organically crossed paths at JMU. But somehow we all connected, sharing the bond of exploring London together and continuing to share in that bond over the following school year after we’d returned. A large portion of our group had graduated and moved on, no longer living in Harrisonburg. A few were even traveling other parts of the world- stopping back in London and sending us well wishes from a far off place we once called home.


The food at brunch that morning was amazing but the company and stories we told were even better. And there all of a sudden, that feeling of home returned. It still didn’t feel like I belonged back at JMU, but it felt like I would always belong in that group of people.



That’s when it hit me. I was driving home to Richmond from Harrisonburg- partially relieved to have been back and partially confused with my conflicting feelings. Things were never going to feel the same as they did last year, and going back to JMU would always feel warm and happy but never fully mine again. However, the people that I had met, although growing and changing and going through their own separate lives, were the way that I could always have that amazing experience continue. The stories, the photographs, the videos, the late nights would never die as long as we were all there to visit and laugh and remember them together.



So is visiting your university as an Alum easy? No, not at all. You feel like everyone on campus can look at you and tell that somehow you’re out of place, even when you look just as natural as anyone else walking by. But even though I’ve realized that I’m not fully ready to let go of the place I’ve called home for so many years, I know that a piece of me will always still be there as long as I hold on to the amazing people and memories that made it so magical.