Courtesy of Opinion Staff/Headshot of Assistant Opinion Editor Safa Wahidi

“Where’s home for you?” is my favorite question to ask.

The phrase typically garners more effusive responses than the trite, “Where are you from?” It catches people off guard in the best way and maybe even evokes whimsical images of yellow brick roads and shimmering ruby slippers. For the first 20 years of my life, my home has been an idyllic suburban bubble in the metro Atlanta area. As stated on each byline for every article I’ve ever written, I grew up in Sugar Hill, Ga.

I often say that if you picture a stereotypical American suburb, Sugar Hill would come to mind. It’s spending Friday nights under the lights of the high school football stadium and grabbing a book at the local library. It’s the roads I learned to drive on and the lake where I took my prom pictures. It’s consumerism and conventionality — but it’s also where I learned some of my hardest lessons. Above all, it’s comfortable. And leaving it behind when I started my freshman year at Oxford College was difficult.

At Emory University, most students come from out-of-state. Unlike many of my friends, I’ve never had that magical cliche moment of getting in a car or plane and traveling away, not knowing the next time you’ll return to your hometown. Instead, my heart has remained caught between two worlds — no longer quite fitting into one and not yet content with the other. That started to change this semester. My poetry professor recently asked our class to read a collection of Robert Frost’s works. Among these poems was “The Death of the Hired Man,” a free verse in which a husband and wife discuss different perspectives on what it means to come home. While the husband, Warren, asserts that home is somewhere you have no choice but to return to, Mary holds that home is something you can create — a place where you can find belonging and safety. Almost halfway through my time in college, and away from the isolation of Oxford, I now think that she’s right.

To the freshman frustrated by the “Emory bubble,” here’s what your admissions counselor didn’t tell you: The beautiful marble buildings that comprise this campus are often intimidating. The phrase “close-knit community” is a euphemism for cliquiness and exclusivity. These environments can — and often do — feel suffocating. But at Emory, we do what we can to break the bubbles and make homes where we can breathe. This starts in dorm rooms, where my roommate and I spend Halloween weekend watching strange movies and eating Chinese food that never quite makes its way out of our shared mini fridge. It happens in first-ever apartments, which are left barren for several weeks until Tongue & Groove Thursdays become destined for Target trips and grocery shopping. It happens in The Emory Wheel’s offices: My new editor friends and I have practically nothing in common. They love sports; I do not. They tease the way I condense 5,000 years of Roman history; I counter that they didn’t understand the meaning of “Barbie.” We’re nothing alike — but somehow it feels natural. It starts to feel like a home.

There is something terrifying about building a temporary home when you know this time will only last four fleeting years. In college, you’re asked to do the near impossible: to balance your schedule in a million different ways, to know the differences between when to apologize and when to double down and to somehow find a sexy summer internship for your LinkedIn feed on top of everything else. At the cusp of adulthood, you navigate complex emotions. You try to be the best friend you can be. You inadvertently fail. It aches, it recedes and then the cycle starts again. In short, life at Emory is the antithesis of comfort.

But I don’t want comfort anymore. When I think about home now, I still think about Sugar Hill. I still keep my prom pictures framed near my bedside table, and I still visit my local library every chance I get. But I think, too, about the world I am creating right here. I think about laughing on the Quadrangle with a girl I didn’t know a few months ago but I now spend more time with than my parents. I picture crying to my best friend in my kitchen after a bad day and falling asleep on her shoulder after a night out. I think about the adviser who asks me about my love for journalism each time he sees me. I think about driving around with my roommate because we’re 19 and 20, and at our age, we’ll do anything to be near the thrill of the city lights.

I realize I am falling more and more in love with Atlanta, and I am doing so through writing for the Wheel. I research the city’s history, and I write about its future with a friend I will miss dearly when she retires from our section in the coming weeks. I imagine the former editor who sends me encouraging messages every chance she gets and the current one who took me out for coffee my freshman year because she believed in me. This place is a new kind of home — but it’s growing on me.

When I first moved into my Haygood Hall dorm freshman year, my dad told me that college starts to feel like home when you let it. I finally know what he meant. These people, this campus and this beautiful, vibrant city have captured my entire heart. It’s hard reconciling this fact with the realization that all of these components were strangers to me a few short years ago — and they will inevitably become strangers again. Nonetheless, my home is the confluence of the people who raised me and the people who are helping me get to where I’m going. At Emory, I find belonging and safety, and I burst the bubble for what lies beyond. There’s no place quite like it.

April Lawyer/Staff Cartoonist

Safa Wahidi (26C) is from Sugar Hill, Ga.

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Safa Wahidi (she/her) (23Ox) is from Sugar Hill, GA, majoring in English and political science. She is an active member of the Emory Muslim Student Association and serves as Co-President of the Young Democrats of Oxford College. Outside of the Wheel, Wahidi enjoys writing fiction, watching rom-coms and anticipating the next Taylor Swift album. You can find her wandering around the nearest Barnes & Noble, tea and Jane Austen novel in hand.