Uni life: going home from home

February 16, 2023

Image by Stanley Morales from Pexels

Kerrie Portman describes her journey to a magical place of comfort

I don’t know how much I intended on moving to university. I hadn’t thought I would like to stay in student accommodation. I feared it would reflect my experiences of being in Care and the children’s home… but with more alcohol. Perhaps the same amount of drugs.

The university I attend is collegiate, requiring me to live in a college, which turned out to be a far cry from the nightmare I envisioned. The days before I started, back when some echo of summer was still lingering and a week before my birthday, I over-packed my schedule to avoid thinking about university: the reality, the going, the leaving, the starting.

A home town is not just the space and the buildings but who lives in the buildings and the people you danced with in the spaces; the things you all made happen together. A hill isn’t just a patch of grass. It’s remembering what you think about when you get to the top; the picnics, the drinking, the times you lie there and look up at the stars and just dream: dreaming of what you can do and growing up together. I thought we’d all grow up together here.

University is intense, in a way I don’t know that I have the words to describe. It exists as a society of its own, with social norms and a unique dialect independent of the cities the universities inhabit.

There is something magical about the infinite amount of knowledge laid out before your feet

Freshers quickly learn to adopt this, the norms and dialect and a unified understanding of the priorities in life and the dedication needed to achieve them. We feel we need to learn these norms, and then reflect them, as a sign of fitting in: an internalised sign we belong to match the external puffer jackets.

It’s all-consuming in the most beautiful way. It quickly became everything. There is something magical about the infinite amount of knowledge laid out before your feet. The tingling anticipation of beginning and that feeling that anything is possible if you work for it: that it’s starting, that things can happen, that things are already happening and it can matter; it can lead to something and can be for something.

I don’t know how much I understood that before moving. I’ve never been to an educational institute like it. I also don’t know how much more I would have understood – had my best friend not decided to end our friendship on my first day of university, taking the vast majority of my friends from back home with him.

I lost my anchor to home, to everything I knew right before moving to what would become my new home and beginning everything that would become my new anchors. It was a cruel experience, though fittingly reflective of the horrors of Halloween and the metamorphosis of autumn; things falling all around me.

I’ve rarely been back to my hometown since starting university. I’ve had the occasional visit, where it felt alien. And then it felt alien for it to feel alien. The places I knew, as well as the constellations on the back of my hand felt off, familiar but just not quite.

I returned for the Christmas holidays one night when the first snow sprinkled the town like someone had thrown glitter over it; and then when the snow was ankle-deep.

Coming back home, to the place nobody had heard of, felt diminishing

One of the standard questions when moving to university is “where are you from?”. I quickly realised not a lot of people had heard of where I was from. One time, at a party, one person had a roommate who was from the town two towns over from mine and the proximity was rather exciting.

But coming back home, to the place nobody had heard of, felt diminishing. At first, I welcomed the smallness, curled up under it like a duvet. I do like the familiarity and community of a small town. Equally, on the other side of the coin, I don’t like the intimacy of the small town, of nearly running into ex-friends under the mistletoe and party lights that blind my memories of them.

Maybe that’s an inevitable part of being young and a second heartbreak, coming home from university for the Christmas holidays. But also everything that had previously felt like ‘everything’ now felt pointless and hollow.

It’s all still there, in a way: the lights and doorsteps and roses and markets and picnics and hills and alcohol and vaping and rainbows everywhere. But now, for me, there are the gowns and paintings and room by the pool and buildings like castles…

Life is constantly changing and evolving and billion-minute beginnings and endings and returnings and the legacies of what we leave and the legacies that others imprint upon us.

Kerrie is an autistic care leaver, her love of writing originating from the desire to raise awareness of discriminatory practices in social care. This led to her main writing accomplishments, including two published articles in The Guardian and co-authoring a chapter of the book: ‘COVID-19 and Co-production in Health and Social Care Research, Policy, and Practice, Volume 2: Co-production Methods and Working Together at a Distance’. As Kerrie’s love of writing grew, it expanded to most topics and she has also guest-written articles for Ambitious About Autism, National Student Pride, iReader, Heroica, Wearewriteous and North Hertfordshire Pride.

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