Yesterday, I visited my alma mater, James Madison University, with my little brother Cade. Cade is 17, a junior in high school, and on the hunt for his next educational home. His heart is set on JMU (because he's a smart kid that way) and it got me thinking about my own college experience. And got me very homesick and nostalgic.
Honestly, I dreaded college. I was the weird kid who was very happy at home with her family. I liked where I lived and was scared to leave the comforts of home and family. Growing up, every time I transitioned to a new school I absolutely hated it. Pre-school, kindergarten, 6th grade, 9th grade... I hated all those years. When my family moved 15 minutes from one house to the next when I was in 9th grade, I was so angry because I hated making that transition. It's a little sad, but I'm just a person who gets my heart set on something and stubbornly clings to that.
With JMU, I was the same way. I decided it was the school for me after attending a tour like the one Cade went on yesterday. All the students walking around campus shouting to the tour groups, "Come to JMU! This is the best school ever!" They were what persuaded me. I saw people who were happy, welcoming, excited to see potential new JMU-ers, and people who thought of this place as their home. Everyone feels that magnetism and enthusiasm when they visit JMU. It's a community like no other. And I was reminded of that as we walked around campus yesterday, with students shouting out the same things to Cade that they'd said to me.
Now, don't get me wrong. My freshman year of college was no piece of cake. I struggled. I appreciated a lot about JMU, but I'm not extroverted enough to bond easily with people. It was hard to make the connections that ultimately made me love living in Harrisonburg.
Sometimes, I think about my time at JMU and wonder if it was a waste. I majored in English, minored in teaching and creative writing. I got my masters degree in education. I had my plan. I was going to teach kids how to write, form arguments, be creative, and absorb literature. But that didn't work out for me. It wasn't my path, and honestly I felt that off and on as I tried to make it my path. There's a blog post from a blog I had waaaaay back when, long before this blog, where I questioned whether I should be a teacher, whether I wanted to be a part of today's education system. It foreshadowed a lot, and I wish I'd listened to the little voice in my head earlier.
But I don't regret my college life. JMU gave me a lot more than a degree. I learned a lot about independence there. I learned to come out of my shell a little more in a place where it really was always safe to do that. I learned how to think about things in new ways and how to channel my creativity. I got my first job as a photographer there! Photographing tourists at Massanutten ski resort. That's where I started playing around with an SLR for the first time and noticing which photos people really fell in love with (it wasn't the sweet action shots, I'll tell you that!).
JMU is where I really, truly learned that a home is not a physical place. It's where you feel at home. It took me a while, but eventually I felt so at home there and that was so obvious to me yesterday as I walked paths I hadn't walked in years and subconsciously strode toward dorms I hadn't lived in in 10 years.
Oh, and I met Erik at JMU! That in itself makes it worth every penny.