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The grass is always green: An ode to first homes and an ode to the second

If you lived in Normal, Illinois, and saw it the way I did, you would find life to be familiar. You would joke with every out-of-towner about its accurate name, avoid the same potholes for years on end, and, above all, longingly wait for the day you can leave. 

At Normal Community High School, students who were able to leave were thrilled to do so. Leaving for college meant leaving the monotonous gray views for a life that would be exciting simply because it would be different. 

I was a student who hoped never to look back to the Central Plains, so I didn’t. 

I never experienced love at first sight until I came to Oxford. In my first semester here, I cherished every walk to class and trip to the farmer’s market. I felt genuine warmth from the people I met and in the conversations I had, and, most importantly, I couldn’t believe there were hills. 

As classes went on, leaves fell from the trees, and I fell into routine. Like most years, the privilege of school evaded me, and learning became a chore. By finals, I was more than ready for a break. 

I was happy to return to Normal. I was excited to play poker with friends whose tells I could read, I liked bickering with my siblings and I loved the home-cooked meals. Although, when my friends and siblings went back to school and my parents returned to work, I remembered that I was in Illinois. 

Despite having been excited to get back home, the grass seemed greener in Oxford. 

Here, I can slip on the ice in Goggin and laugh as my friends scoop me back up. I can go Uptown and do as any college student does. I can look out into the world and see something other than the tedious infinity of cornfields. 

Like many Miami students, I began to dislike our lengthy J-term. I felt as eager for it to end as I was for it to begin. It seemed like there was nothing else to do but wait to return to Oxford, so that’s what I did. 

But as the break came to an end and time pulled me closer to the place I ached for, I saw the green of my first home. I remembered that the sun blessed Illinoian skies not in the day, but in brilliant dusks. I forgot the banality of cornfields and saw eternal abundance.

The grass might seem greener on the other side, but the grass you stand on is still green. The grass is green in Oxford, but the grass is green in Normal, too. 

It wasn’t until I was outside Normal looking in that I was able to experience it completely. I wasn’t able to truly appreciate Oxford until I began living here. To develop a thorough understanding of a place, it must be experienced both inside and out.

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It is difficult to appreciate something when it becomes familiar — much like how the dining hall food tastes worse when you have the same thing for dinner three times a week. 

Recently, in my French literature class, FRE 303, my professor spoke of the joy of being a tourist. He expressed how only an outsider looking in can see the beauty of everyday life – specifically making note of a Cambodian gas pump. He explained how captivating such a benign object was to him at that moment and that we would struggle to find the same elegance in the gas pumps we have grown accustomed to. 

There is so much charm in discovering the unknown; maybe the unknown is simply a different angle from what’s familiar. 

Finding my new home in Oxford has taught me to avoid comparison. There is no better or worse, there is only difference. 

I might have lived my entire life never fully appreciating all that Normal has to give had I not been forced to see it in a new light. I might too quickly forget the allure of Oxford should I focus my eye on the breaks we are taught to look forward to. 

While there is nothing wrong with looking elsewhere and indulging in where your gaze lingers, we cannot forget that the grass is green here, too. 

Lilly McClelland is a first-year honors student majoring in diplomacy and global politics with an environmental science co-major and a French minor. She is a contributor to the opinion section of The Student.