Live Through This

She’s Leaving Home

Getting through homesickness and finding your crew.

Collage by Emma D.

I just recently packed up all my belongings, abandoned the life I’d known for the last three years and relocated me and my kitty to a new place with a stranger human (and stranger cat). OK, so I really just moved a few blocks down the street, but still, it’s kind of a big deal? And in any case, this year marked the 10th anniversary of THE MOVE, aka that time I went away to college.

I’d had a pretty normal life for the first 16 years of my life. I lived in Cupey, Puerto Rico, with my mom and our dog, Chili, in a second-floor apartment about 25 minutes from my high school. I had friends that I loved and saw every day at school and even went on vacations with.

I wasn’t satisfied, of course, because what 16-year-old is? I wanted to go to college in the States! It wasn’t just some ridiculous whim, because no universities in PR offered fashion design, which is what I set out to study once upon a time (but that’s another story)—and even if they did, I wanted to be as close to New York as possible because, well, New York was the center of everything cool to me (and the place where I knew I wanted to be)–so I applied to a couple of schools and off I went to Philadelphia to start a new life, less than a month after I turned 17.

I was fine. I told myself I was fine, so it must’ve been true. They had orientation week a couple days before school started for “international students,” and my mom flew with me to Philadelphia. She was a kind of secret security blanket for me, and even though I could’ve moved the dorms right away, I chose to stay with her at her hotel, because those three orientation days were really all I had left of the life I knew. Then it came time to say goodbye, and the waterworks came on BIG TIME. Who did I think I was to move to a completely different place far away from everything and everyone I’d ever known? After I had said goodbye to Mom I was walking to the dining hall with my eyes all bloodshot and some random guy looked at me and said, “YOU’RE CRYING ALREADY?” and all I could do was mouth a “fuck you” to him and walk away.

The first couple of days at college were lonely. The three girls that I had been assigned as roommates kept going to the dining hall together without inviting me, leaving me to wonder why I’d spent so much time trying to figure out how to answer the “roommate questionnaire” that was supposed to grant me an instant BFF on move-in day. Blah. I covered my little corner of the room with posters and magazine tear-sheets from my bedroom back home, and would lie in bed getting lost in Dave Grohl’s face while listening to some sappy Sarah McLachlan songs on my Discman. I talked to my mom on the phone every day, but never let her in on how scared I was feeling. I just sucked it up, and tried to make a go at a new life.

First, I decided was gonna be open to hangouts with everyone. It didn’t matter if we had things in common or they listened to shitty music or whatever—I was in no position to turn down human interaction. Oh man, when I put it that way it sounds SO sad! But whatever, it was the truth! One day in the dining hall a couple of girls that I could tell were sorta my people (you know, some kinda Latin) approached me and asked, “Are you the Puerto Rican girl?” (What? How did they know? Also I was THE Puerto Rican girl? SO MANY QUESTIONS!) I said yes, and for a couple days we ate lunch together. I think I had class with one of them, so our conversation was mostly about class stuff or, like, stuff we all liked, which inevitably came down to talking about food like rice and beans or pasteles or something (food is always a thing to talk about when you meet people of your background!). Our budding friendship ended when they asked me if I wanted to dance on top of one of the floats at the Puerto Rican Day Parade (I hate parades! Never mind being IN them!), and I politely declined. Maybe they thought I was a snob? WHO KNOWS? It turned out we really DIDN’T have much in common beyond our love for rice and beans and pasteles. But at least I had given it a shot.

Things did get better after that. Luck had a little bit to do with it: it turned out the dorm I was living in was sort of the “reject” dorm. It was the oldest building on campus and it was co-ed and rumor had it that college tour guides were not allowed to bring prospective students and their families around to check it out. No one really knows why—possibly because it was all LAWLESS in there and we all just did what we wanted—but I think it was really because all the other dorms were renovated and probably had nicer insides, although I wouldn’t really know because I never set foot in any of them. Every time I left to go to class I saw the same motley crew of kids hanging out on the bench out front, smoking cigarettes and skateboarding up and down the walkway. They were loud and were always joking and they always made me laugh, like the time somebody put a flier on the door from the Christian club (not sure that was a thing) that said “Lost? Lonely? Come talk to GOD” and they had crossed the GOD part out and written one of the guys’ names and his phone number in its place. I started accompanying one of my roommates on her cigarette breaks out to the bench, and it wasn’t long before I started spending all my free time (OK and maybe the time I was supposed to be in class too but shhh!) hanging out and having a blast with my newfound friends.

It was in this glamorous environment that I met Tara, the coolest girl I’ve ever met probably still to this day, the girl who’d become one of my best friends and whom I lived with for four years. She wore red Converse every day and lived in jeans and a rad collection of vintage T-shirts and was my first exposure to real-life coolness. In a glorious pre-Missed Connections scenario, she had been looking for the girl who wore a Sonic Youth Washing Machine T-shirt on the first day of school (spoiler alert: it was me!) and I had been looking for the girl who lived on a room in the first floor, whose Beck and Sonic Youth posters were visible from outside. One of the other “bench kids” brought us together, and I was so grateful that I didn’t even mind when he walked around the hallways with his acoustic guitar singing Get Up Kids songs like some version of the Naked Cowboy only not, thankfully, naked.

And just like that, literally a few weeks after thrusting myself into the great unknown, I was sitting on the floor of Tara’s dorm room while she patiently taught me how to play Sleater-Kinney’s “One More Hour” on a borrowed guitar (she was Carrie and I was Corin). I never worried about being lonely again.

So what’s the point of reading this totally awesome memoir (because there IS one)? See, if you’ve left home for the first time and are feeling lonely and kinda lost, I have some advice for you! Stuff like:

  1. Hang out with everyone. You don’t have anything better to do, so you may as well live it up!
  2. Go where the action is. Wherever you see a group of kids congregated all the time is where you want to be. You can even tailor this to your interests, like maybe you start hanging out near the kids playing hackysack or the ones that are always loitering at the computer labs. Conversation will inevitably arise, and then BOOM, friend city.

    I mean, I know, you’d rather stay in and watch another episode of The X-Files on Netflix because THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE, but here’s the thing: eventually you’ll watch one of those filler episodes that are kinda ridiculous and you’ll be like, wah! So just take yourself out into the REAL WORLD, where you’ll probably meet someone who’s into The X-Files too, and then you guys can go back and watch Netflix TOGETHER, and wah! about the lame episodes to each other, which is a LOT MORE FUN than wah!-ing at an episode by yourself. Just force yourself out of your room/house and find a buddy who’s into the same lazy activities as you. (Everyone is lazy in college. This shouldn’t be hard.)

  3. Obvious displays of interests attract kindred spirits. Wear your band T-shirts or your obscure Star Trek/Seinfeld/Big Lebowski T-shirts and have lunch with the first person who’s all, “DUDE! NICE SHIRT!”
  4. Always be tryin’ new things. You’re in a new place, so give in to your whims! New place means a new chance to make a new you, so go ahead and treat yourself to new awesomeness. Explore everything you’ve ever had even a passing interest in. Maybe you were too ashamed before, but now you’re in a new setting and nobody knows what’s going on, so take advantage of the FREEDOM. It’s the best time of your life. LIVE.IT.UP. ♦


  • KinuKinu April 24th, 2012 11:15 PM

    THIS IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I am so happy.this is just A+.Ummm.that collage is so amazing,Emma :D LOVE IT!!

  • lexichelle April 24th, 2012 11:17 PM

    Ugh, I hate how much I needed this article! This next semester at college is going to be my friend making bitch. Or something like that. Thank you!

  • Fanfanfarlo April 24th, 2012 11:22 PM

    Thank you for this. I’m about to live in a foreign country for two months, then move 1000 miles away (to NYC, actually) for college 3 weeks after I get back to the states, so this was comforting and helpful! Definitely freaking about leaving the fam.

    • Fanfanfarlo April 24th, 2012 11:23 PM

      Also, just had to add, been listening to “She’s Leaving Home” semi-religiously since I figured out where I was going to college…

    • Emilia April 25th, 2012 2:51 AM

      This is me after the summer and I’m so scared. I’m going NYC as well :) Where do you go?

  • SweetThangVintage April 24th, 2012 11:52 PM

    This is great thank you! I’m thinking about moving to Colorado and I live in Indiana right now. And not even just for school, I just want to be in Colorado. BECAUSE ITS FREAKING AMAZING!

  • lilghostie April 24th, 2012 11:53 PM

    not sure how much i agree with this article. for some people college is a really lonely time and i wish more people would acknowledge that. i know i’m probably being a huge downer but i’ve felt extremely isolated in college, and i even stayed in my same city. i dunno, maybe it’s just me but i wish that people weren’t always going on and on about how these are the best years of your life. i don’t feel that way at all :(

    • Tyknos93 April 25th, 2012 12:45 AM

      No I get that ENTIRELY. My friends who went out of state feel the same. Inability to connect with others, demanding coursework and trying to find a niche. I am still around my family and some friends, but I feel really ambivalent about the whole college experience. Its…not really what I expected at all so far.

      • giov April 25th, 2012 6:01 AM

        I don’t think this article is saying “yay college, best years of my life”. It just says: “go out, make friends, find your people”. It takes time, it might not happen at all, you might have to wait until your next move (leaving your home town might help, or not at all). When I left home for the first time I was also 17 and one month, and I was miserable for a whole year. Worst year of my life? Probably. Did it get better? Thank goodness, yes. Unfortunately feeling isolated is part of the game, especially if you’re the sensitive type, but hey! It’s not forever.

      • Tyknos93 April 25th, 2012 1:01 PM

        Right I liked the article. I was just saying I get the whole alien feeling of striking out on your own for the first time.

    • mayaautumn April 25th, 2012 2:05 AM

      i agree. although I’m a long way off college at the mo, i always think well it could get pretty lonely… and i know a couple of people who’ve had to move back in with their parents because they were so lonely in their flat. anyway, i did love this article because it highlighted the pros instead of the cons which made me more positive..! <3

    • megantron April 25th, 2012 9:19 AM

      that is true, but I don’t Laia’s article was about how college is the BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE. I think it’s just supposed to give hope to the people who are entering college and are worried about not making friends/being homesick all the time. And the second half of the essay does offer advice about how one can avoid that feeling of isolation (ex. trying to hang out with all kinds of people, trying different experiences).

      Even though I was pretty disappointed/disillusioned about my own college experience, I thought Laia’s essay was pretty solid. While I did have a core group of friends in college, I also felt like we didn’t share so many interests (I still love them! I just think that we were more like fire-forged friends rather than naturally clicking, which I had felt with my high school friends.) I think that if I had put myself out there more (like Laia had), I might have been able to find more friends who were on the same wavelength as me.

      But I do think that it would be interesting to see an article about how college can be lonely (since you often see Rookie articles about how high school was shitty but then the author found her ~crew in college) and how in fact, college can still feel like high school.

    • Maddy April 25th, 2012 3:44 PM

      Wow, that really sucks for you and for me because I have a horrible feeling that I’m going to be completely alone in college. I’m already in my own head a lot, and while I have good friends I don’t always see them. Like today I sat alone at lunch. I don’t really seem to need human interaction, but I will definitely feel isolated regardless. Not looking forward to this…

    • Runaway April 27th, 2012 2:40 PM

      College was the same for me, too (this is my last year, too late to change things now). I freak out every time I read something along the lines of “college is your last chance to find your crew/date/find your niche”. I’m afraid that for me it’s been something like extended high school time, only with much interesting courses. Of course, I wasn’t completely friendless; I had a little group of friends. They are really nice, but we don’t click the way I expected. Maybe I’ve romanticized friendship or how high school/college should be…But it leaves me with little hope for the future, to be honest. I’m a twenty something who still hasn’t gotten over with high school problems.

  • pflugerville April 24th, 2012 11:54 PM

    I really enjoyed this, and I’m definitely going to keep it in mind when I finally get to college, but what I really need advice on is gap years! Because I’m taking one and I’m not sure what I’m doing yet or if I’ll be lonely because I may be living in a foreign city alone or just with my mom and while I love my mom I will probably go crazy without being able to talk to other people so how would I go about doing that, you know? Right.

    • Phoebe April 24th, 2012 11:56 PM

      Tune in tomorrow!

      • maddercarmine April 25th, 2012 12:52 AM

        yes so glad we’ll be discussing Gap Years! I’m on mine now and it is actually the best decision I ever made in my entire life. Fear not, pflugerville, you will find people to talk to! My friends now range in age from 22 to 53 (I’m 19) and are from all walks of life. I live in a foreign city alone right now. It sucked a bit initially, but right now I have actually never been happier. Can’t wait to talk about this tomorrow!

  • Emilie April 25th, 2012 12:04 AM

    love love love love LOVE that cover art!!!

  • saraj00n April 25th, 2012 12:05 AM

    “I mean, I know, you’d rather stay in and watch another episode of The X-Files on Netflix because THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE, but here’s the thing: eventually you’ll watch one of those filler episodes that are kinda ridiculous and you’ll be like, wah!”

    This is the most (only?) convincing piece of evidence I’ve ever heard for social interaction > Netflix.

  • Adrienne April 25th, 2012 12:27 AM

    Definitely helpful advice when I go to college! I’m afraid I’ll have a horrible case of homesickness. :( I don’t know how far away I want to go while still being somewhat independent!

  • anton April 25th, 2012 12:39 AM

    Perfect! I want to leave home to go to college so badly but then again I’m TERRIFIED of leaving home. Rookie should do like this college guide or something of that sort :)

  • Tara April 25th, 2012 12:49 AM

    Laia you are golden. firstly, this article is perfect because I know well how it feels to leave home and also the feeling that you are a bit of an outcast and don’t ‘fit’ but also the joy of finding people you relate to immensely. the shirt idea is very, very true. and I deeply appreciate the x-files love.

  • ToriLynne April 25th, 2012 1:14 AM

    Thank you so much for this! Going to college this coming year- will remember your wise words! :)
    xo, Tori

  • Ben April 25th, 2012 1:39 AM

    When I finish highschool I want to move straight to L.A. and Just enjoy the place and try to start a buissenes designing clothes and if that dosen’t work very well I’ll move to london to go to Central Saint Martins (Almost all my favorite designers whet there) and then try to start my bussiness again! I got it ALL figured out!!! Hopefully I’ll make lots of friends! I’m exited to start highschool because there are so many cool people there (to be friends witth)! Yay!

    • Lozzer April 25th, 2012 4:29 AM

      My best friend is at Central St Martins. It’s amazing and the people are so so so so cool!

      • Ben April 25th, 2012 11:14 AM

        Awesome! It seems like an amazing place!

  • the8thglass April 25th, 2012 1:59 AM

    I’ve lived in my painfully small, wine country, northern Californian town for my entire life and next year I’ll be out on my own– going to school in NYC. I am completely and totally terrified, but this article just made gave me a bit of courage. Thanks Rookie, for talking me down from a building hysteric freak out once again! ;)

  • FossilisedUnicorn April 25th, 2012 3:52 AM

    I’m moving to London to go to an art school for at least a year and I’m so aware of that this could be either the best or the worst year of my life… My worries mainly rely in the fact that I am not so good with social contact and making friends all by myself. But London is so cool and this has been my dream since forever so I don’t want to screw it up.

  • Ruby A. April 25th, 2012 4:14 AM

    Beautiful illustration emma! As always.

  • Lozzer April 25th, 2012 4:27 AM

    This is so true, though I was quite lucky, I met one of my best friends here at uni last October about two hours after I moved in. The conversation went something like:

    Friend: Hey.
    Me: Oh hey. Do you live on this floor?
    Friend: Yeah I do.
    Me: Cool. Sorry if my music is too loud and you don’t like it.
    Friend: What music are you into?
    Me: The Smiths, dubstep, etc.
    Friend: I LOVE THE SMITHS.
    Me: Oh my God, that’s cool. Anyway, I’m gonna go outside for a cigarette.
    Friend: Oh, I’ll come too.
    Me: You smoke?!
    Friend: Yeah! You’re the first person I met who does too.

    And we’ve been firm friends ever since. (This isn’t endorsing smoking)

  • MissKnowItAll April 25th, 2012 6:36 AM

    First of all I approve of the Beatles song title.
    Second of all, Im glad you posted this. I can’t say I’ve really experienced this first hand but my mother has. When she was 17 she moved from India to New York. She stayed with her uncle and aunt (whom she wasn’t very close to) and she didn’t see her parents or brothers for years. It’s a very hard thing but adjusting to it really helps in the long run.

  • A Fox In The Snow April 25th, 2012 7:31 AM

    Thank you for this article! I’m planning to go to another college than my friends in two years, but I was worried about socializing. This will definitely help me!

  • pct1994 April 25th, 2012 10:41 AM

    I loved this article! I’m French, living in Paris, and I’d so so love to move to the States for college next year! It always seemed that people have the best time there. Unfortunately it’s too expensive for me to go. Ah anyway, thank you for sharing these advice! Loving Rookie from the other side of the Atlantic

  • Isobel-cat April 25th, 2012 11:08 AM

    this is so great. I’m (hopefully) going to college in September and I am FREAKING OUT – I’m convinced that I could never make friends with anyone new and I’ll probably just lock myself away and cry about missing my cats.. but instead, I shall take this (quite terrifying but useful) advice and to to be okayyy, thank you!!

  • Clairebearscare April 25th, 2012 12:09 PM

    I go to boarding school so I can totally relate to this. I was 14 when I left home and will probably never live there again for longer than summer vacation. Scary thought. But the friends I’ve made at school have become my family. My home away from home. The big thing is to get out there and just talk to anyone. On move in day leave your door open to let people know they’re welcome to come in! It’ll make meeting people a lot easier. :)

  • Arwen April 25th, 2012 1:03 PM

    fantastic article! Now I am more excited then ever to attend college!! (:

  • berserks April 25th, 2012 2:34 PM

    Wow how appropriate to my current situation since I’ll be transferring soon. I mean, this is high school so obviously much different than college but I’ve been stressing about making new friends at my new school in my new city. This isn’t the first time that I’ve moved and it was relatively easy to make friends but that was five years ago and we’ve all gone our separate ways! Thank you for the tips I will definitely take those into consideration so I don’t have some sort of social anxiety attack once I start at my new school. :)

  • Abby April 25th, 2012 3:39 PM

    Thank you… I’m going off to college in the fall, two states away from everyone I know. I’m so scared that I won’t have any friends there to fall back on if I don’t make any new ones… I know that’s totally irrational, because I’m obviously going to make new friends, but I’m still scared. Anyway, I think I’m going to go mull this over for a while and try to stop freaking out. Thanks again :).

  • CeciliaCecilia April 25th, 2012 6:09 PM

    i live in puerto rico! :)

  • bedazzledbandannas April 25th, 2012 6:29 PM

    just wanted to add to the positive, appreciative feedback – I’m also leaving home for boarding school in August; it’ll be the biggest move I’ve ever made, so this article is perfectly timed! also very encouraging and helpful – hopefully I’ll be able to fight my antisocial lizlemonness and follow your friend-making advice.

  • carogenous April 25th, 2012 7:15 PM

    Maaaaan, I wish I had this article last fall when I was a baby freshman. Now as an old fart spring semester freshman, I can definitely confirm that meeting people is easiest at the beginning of the year because everyone is in their little lonely boats and eager to meet people. Rookie’s so good at making people feel like they’re not the only ones thinking things and it’s so great.

    Not saying I didn’t make any friends at all (protip: try to go on a trip! I took a class where we took a hiking/anthropological trip to New Mexico over spring break! BFFsies 5ever) but I definitely feel like I missed out on some cool people because I didn’t take that social nosedive.

  • unefillecommetoi April 25th, 2012 9:33 PM

    wow thanks! I mean, seriously, I’m moving 5 hours from home next year for college and my mom is freaking out even though she doesn’t tell me but I can tell. Everything’s going really fast and it’s good to hear a funny memoir of someone who went through what I’m gonna go through. You take the apocalyptic dramatism out of moving out :)

  • boyfights April 26th, 2012 12:44 AM

    I’m a big tough 20-year-old now, so I feel like this article shouldn’t have been as comforting as it was for me. I’m lucky enough to be able to live at home while I study at uni (that’s more common than boarding in Australia) but the older I get the more it becomes a security blanket. I’m terrified of moving out, even though the idea of relative independence excites me.

    I’m glad this article brought up Laia’s relationship with her mother, and the daily phone calls. That’s probably going to be the hardest thing for me too when the time comes to move out, because it feels like severing another, more vital cord.

    I love how this article doesn’t trivialise the notion of moving out, but doesn’t overstate it, either. And while I’m faced with moving to another suburb, moving to another country away from your family at the age of 17 would be much harder – so thanks for the wake up call, and the empathy.

  • LittleMissE April 26th, 2012 2:49 AM

    Thanks for this. My family is moving from Hawaii to Washington D.C. this year, and although I’m excited, I’m quite nervous about starting a new school, finding new hang-out spots, etc.

  • tankgrrrl April 26th, 2012 2:49 AM

    Good, good, good advice. Fact: I had very few friends until I went to college. Now I am (and this still weirds me out a lot) a fairly popular, well-known, and well-liked campus figure. Granted, I go to a teeny-tiny college, but still.

  • ali April 26th, 2012 6:12 AM

    I kind of wish I had this bit of help when I was 15, and going off to be an exchange student to France, who spoke absolutely no French, and had never been out of Australia before. Big learning curve.

    I had lovely people to help me, but, in the end, it was me that had to help me. I have a very thick skin now. And my poor mum still feels like she misses me sometimes. I think I grew up a little too fast. But I can do things on my own, like shopping, cooking, paying things etc. Do you remember the article here on adulthood? I just turned 17 and I can say I am almost an adult. The line is very clear to me. But now I want to hold onto being a teenager for a little longer.

    • Caitlin Rose April 27th, 2012 3:03 PM

      I get this entirely! I am fifteen too and currently in Belgium on exchange. Although I do speak french, I am at a school where no one really shares my interests at all and there are types about who didn’t make it easy at first because I was ‘too different’

      I have a wonderful, supportive host family and everything, but after about a month I realised it was ME that had to get up and find friends and not base my choices on shallow things like tastes and interests. I had to find friends that I found interesting as people.

      I waited a long time for friends to come and find me and the second I decided to go look for myself I met some amazing people who certainly weren’t like me or my melbourne friends- I come from Australia too!!- and are now wonderful friends.