When I tell people at Bowdoin that I’m from Tampa, Fla., the three most common responses are: “Do you like football?” “My grandparents live in Sarasota” and “Oh wow … how do you like that?”
The first always has something to do with Tom Brady, the second with Florida’s large population of the elderly (even though Sarasota is very cool), but the third could go many ways.
I still don’t know how to respond. When my final college decision came down to the University of Florida and the NESCAC, a big draw of the latter was that it was “not Florida.” It wasn’t until after my first semester at Bowdoin that I even began to consider the merits of my home. The first time I realized that I missed Tampa was when I came to the realization that you can’t see the sunset from the Maine coast. The second time it hit me was spring of my first year, when I left my apartment in Brunswick and came home for a couple days in March and everything was green. I’ve been pretty solid on enjoying Florida weather since then, with my school breaks being blissfully full of boat rides, laying in the never-fading grass, weirdly shaped tan lines from two hours of UV 11 and haphazardly applied sunscreen.
But true appreciation for my hometown as a whole came from bringing three of my friends home with me this past spring break.
I drafted an intricate schedule so everyone would leave thinking that Florida was not completely Disney World, mosquitoes and Governor-DeSantis-yelling-at-actual-children and so that Melissa Su ’24 would stop saying “That’s so Tampa” when I do something she thinks is crazy. But, like most vacations, plans often went by the wayside.
Somehow, though, Tampa graciously cooperated with everything I wanted to share: the waiter bringing out Cuban bread right when I was talking about how it used to be left at everyone’s door each morning in Ybor City, the dolphin fin popping up as I recounted scanning the ocean for one every time I went to the beach and my friends loving the food at my go-to restaurant. There was even an alligator in a downtown Tampa pond we walked next to where I’ve never seen an alligator before (which I pretended was completely normal for effect).
The first day of the trip was just my roommate and I, and it was at once both normal and surreal. It was a pretty average day at home for me, with the exception that the biggest continuity of my Bowdoin experience was sitting next to me in the car. We drove past canals and glimpsed the Bay. I made her listen to Zac Brown Band with the windows down (until we switched to the mutually agreeable Maren Morris), the slightly-salty, warm-but-sparkly air whipping through the car intoxicatingly.
It could’ve been my high school best friend sitting in her place, the summer we listened to Tyler Childers. The whole trip felt oddly typical, like high school and Bowdoin had flipped and that this was my normal life. But this drive with Melissa also could’ve been the night last spring that we drove to Simpson’s Point, with Maine’s pitch black roads and about a million stars.
I didn’t realize how much Tampa had ingrained itself in my brain until I couldn’t stop spouting facts and family history at my friends down each street we drove and each place we stopped. I’m sure realizing what home means to you is nearly a universal experience of going to college. But the normalcy of having my friends, who I’ve scarcely seen outside of Thorne or Bruns, in my childhood home made me realize that, while I don’t think that Maine will ever be able to match the blaring sunshine, s’mores beside the dock, lizards on the sidewalks or the driveway bougainvillea of Florida, my friends have made Bowdoin still home—one that’s less about a place, and more about who’s there.
Clara Jergins is a member of the Class of 2024.