Finding an unlikely home in first year

I am a proud Torontonian. Please don’t stop reading this on account of that!

I once read that we crave politeness, not friendliness. I think that’s an appropriate characterization. People out west are a lot more friendly than they are back home. Throughout my first few weeks of first year, when I’d say “I’m from Toronto” — often in a careful, measured and slightly apologetic tone — people would ask if I’d met Drake (no) and then make some remarks about how industrial and dirty Toronto is compared to lush, Pacific Vancouver. But I always thought Toronto was pretty green. I love my city’s streets, crowded transit, muggy summers and our snow globe-worthy winters.

When I decided to make the move out west for university, I was excited about the change. Maybe it was the Birkenstocks, the Blundstones or the mountains, but something told me I would find my place here. First, I’d have to leave the comfortable confines of my idyllic east end neighbourhood with its boardwalks and high dog-to-human ratio. I’d sacrifice my late-night drives to Queen Street West for cake at Future Bakery, the bustle of Bloor-Yonge and the subway. I’d abandon my beloved streetcars, parks and cafes. And my friends. My brothers. My parents. I did so knowing or rather hoping that I’d find a sense of place in Vancouver. Even if it didn’t become my home, it would still be a home.

But after my first few days in residence, it didn’t feel like either. The big move was just starting to sink in, but I had already arrived. As I artfully arranged photos in my dorm room, I realized most of the photos I had chosen were of places, street corners, my favourite buildings, the view off my front porch. I missed the places from back home. The people were always with me.

I couldn’t stop crying. I cried in my dorm room, in the Rose Garden, in the Vanier mailroom. Exhausted by small talk and “Where are you from’s” and “What faculty are you in’s?”, I’d meet up with my childhood best friend who had also decided on UBC and we’d reminisce about how great our home city is. I'd listen to the Toronto news program Metro Morning to ground myself. These west-coasters — with their athleisure, yoga mats and “West coast, best coast” mentality — were so foreign to me.

I remember scuttling off to the Rose Garden one day in the first week of classes and telling my mum through tears about what a terrible mistake I’d made. She reminded me why I was here, why I had chosen UBC and how lucky I was to have this adventure and an opportunity to study in such a beautiful place. She had studied at a school in a small Ontario city and loved it for the people she’d met, the experiences she’d had and the classes she’d taken. She reassured me that my new place — residence, UBC, Vancouver — would start to feel like home soon.

And she was right, as mothers usually are. As classes began and I found myself one of tens of thousands in the expansive geography of UBC, I would return to my floor and the familiar faces and voices there at the end of the day with a sigh of relief.

Today, when I walk back to Place Vanier from Buchanan, past the First Nations Longhouse, I note the same trees and walk the same paths. I am comforted by the brown monochromatic tones of the commonsblock and our depleting concrete walkways. And even though residence food isn’t exactly home cooking, there is familiarity in the dining hall and the avocado spinach pasta. One spunky lunch lady, who reminds me of my aunt, calls me “sunshine.” Wreck Beach sometimes reminds me of the lakefront back home.

Slowly, UBC has started to feel like home and my subconscious has stopped asking “What are you doing here?” and started saying “Cherish this time and place.” I’ll really miss residence next year. The bathroom social conventions, spontaneous dance parties, the sound of my roommate’s key turning in the lock, the hilarity of my floormates who I now consider friends, the people I see in the commonsblock, the boys I never talk to. These all have made this place more familiar to me and helped make UBC feel like home.

Now, I recognize the outline of islands that peek out when you look down Main Mall towards the flagpole. I have started to take shortcuts to get to classes here and there. I know exactly how long it takes me to get from my dorm room to the Ubyssey office (six minutes when I walk with purpose). The other day, I was asked for directions on campus twice and I knew the answer both times. Last week, I heard myself say “I’ve booked my flight to Toronto for the 14th and back home on the 1st.” It was as simple as that.

My tiny dorm room that I share with a practical stranger 3,364 km from Toronto had become my home. You can find your place, your people, your community wherever you go. Your home is where you find yourself — and wherever you find yourself is where you’re meant to be.