My favorite word in the entire world is hiraeth, a Welsh word without a direct translation in English. It means homesickness, but not the feeling of missing your parents and childhood bedroom. It’s a yearning, a longing for a time or place you can no longer return to because it no longer exists, or never did in the first place. Your spirit lives in this place, and you wish with all your heart that you could be there again. To the Welsh, it often refers to missing the time before the British took over, but this word has a different meaning to everyone, including me.
When I started at UC Berkeley four years ago, I got rid of any feelings of yearning I had for my first 18 years. I threw myself into freshman year, desperately trying to be friends with every student I met and spending all my time in the Unit 2 Ehrman Hall first-floor lounge.
Going into sophomore year, hiraeth settled in. I feared moving away from the safety of the dorms and my friends. From watching the sunsets on the eighth floor to watching Vines with my floormates, to everything being so new and exciting — I yearned for that first year.
So, I spent sophomore year missing what I used to have. I simultaneously clung to the past while I planned my future escapes by applying for internships in Washington, D.C., and study abroad for my junior year. But this was also the year I joined The Daily Californian, a move that ended up defining my time at UC Berkeley. I finally had a place where I could express myself, make people laugh and create work I could take pride in. But for some reason, that wasn’t enough.
My summer in Washington, D.C., and the fall semester that came after were a blur. I finally found some happiness and freedom on the East Coast, but returning to campus that fall was like having reality tumble back down upon me. When I wasn’t talking about my summer, I was telling myself, “Just hold on until spring.”
To put it as every basic college student ever does, studying abroad did change me. Not just in the sense that it opened my eyes to the world, took me out of my comfort zone, et cetera — it was the moment something clicked. It was the first moment that I realized I actually missed UC Berkeley.
When I came back, I saw campus in a whole new light. While simultaneously longing to return to Utrecht, the gorgeous city in the Netherlands I was fortunate enough to live in for six months, I started to see Berkeley with open eyes for the first time.
This semester, being torn away from the place and the people I was finally starting to love was like poetic justice. Now I cry about losing precious time, but deep down, I know I’ve already been losing it each year.
The places I’ve loved never really existed. Nothing is perfect — it’s just not how the world works. Freshman year wasn’t all good times, D.C. was too humid and my insecurities were amplified when I studied abroad. Every phase of my college life, I’ve wished for the one that came before, forgetting that it was just as flawed as the current.
Hiraeth is a myth, an intense feeling in my core, the side effect of the elevation of cherry-picked feelings and memories. The fortresses of memories I built up cast a rosy haze over me, and I forgot that I could be just as happy in my normal life. Yes, those periods were objectively better, but constantly wishing I was there instead of where I currently stood was a mistake. I spent every moment unsatisfied, and I took every step past Sather Gate for granted.
When I’m inevitably longing for UC Berkeley in the years to come, I probably won’t remember all of the self-doubt and rejections. What I will remember are the moments I spent in the Daily Cal office, getting to know the wonderful bloggers, going to meetings that were way too long with people I love and walking home too late with Emily. I’ll remember doing face masks with Jessίca, Karina and Chelsea, getting lost trying to find the Big C with Alex, playing intramural soccer with Team Messy, winning trivia with Amanda and Esme and being called “fake” by Maxine (in what I think is a loving way).
I’ll remember my four years in the UC Women’s Chorale, singing my heart out to every song imaginable and being so excited when I got the very small role of Peggy in a “Hamilton” medley. I’ll think about going to Jazz in the Garden with Ella, spending time with my co-workers and friends in the Berkeley Study Abroad office and riding my bike with Kailee and Megan through the Dutch rain. While I will always long for these wild four years, if I’ve learned anything here, it’s to not get trapped in time’s devastating hands.
I don’t know if my spirit ever truly belonged at UC Berkeley, but I know that finally, after nearly four years, I feel like my heart found its home. I’ve been immensely fortunate to have been able to go to this school, to meet all the people I’ve met and to create memories that I can miss. I hope that wherever I end up in the future, I learn to love where I am no matter what and to control my sense of longing for the past. I’m not a Welshman staring off into the misty sea thinking about the country of old, after all.
Sunny Sichi was the spring 2020 blog editor. She joined The Daily Californian in fall 2017 as a blogger and was assistant staff representative in fall 2018 and assistant blog editor in fall 2019. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in political science and in geography.