Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
March 1, 2024
COURTESY OF JACKIE RITTENHOUSE Rittenhouse expresses gratitude for the friends who have shaped her life.

For the very first time in my life, I am living on a different continent than everyone I have ever known. The more than 5,000 miles between myself and all my loved ones have definitely proven that saying Distance makes the heart grow fonder.

As I begin to make new friends in my classes and exchange program, introduce myself time and time again to new acquaintances and make cheerful small talk with strangers, I’ve started looking at myself from an outside perspective. I’ve thought a lot about how I present myself to people for the very first time, a faceless stranger briefly passing into the lives of other faceless strangers. 

Nobody here knows anything about me, which is somehow both isolating and liberating. Of course, in the daily conversations about the weather and delayed public transport, I can begin to introduce myself with facts. 

I’m from California. I’m studying Psychology and Anthropology. I go to school on the East Coast. I have three older sisters. No, I don’t know what I want to do after undergrad. No, I don’t know where I’m going for lunch today. Yes, I love chai lattes and would love to grab one with you.

More importantly though, I’ve started to notice my mannerisms and the things about me that aren’t verbally communicated in these introductory conversations. As someone once said (in a Tumblr post), I am a product of all the people who have ever touched my life, even for a heartbeat. I’m not unique — I’m made up of mannerisms, behaviors, likes, dislikes, opinions and beliefs that I’ve picked up from the people in my life and now call my own.

Every time I hear about Stanford, ellipticals or gummy vitamins, I am reminded of my first best friend. She introduced me to the wonderful world of Webkinz, Nintendogs and fantastical tea parties with fairies and princesses and fairy princesses. Even though we don’t talk anymore — we don’t even text each other on our birthdays — I still love her and care for her, and I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without her.

I make friendship bracelets the way that a friend taught me when we were in a summer camp together. I never have to ask anyone to start the bracelet for me again because of that brief summer we shared, but I couldn’t even tell you her name.

When I find myself being critical of something artistic that I made, my after-school art teacher’s voice pops into my head, urging me to be proud of my creation and continue working rather than giving up. He moved to a different state, and I haven't taken an art class since then, but I still begin my process the way he taught me, breaking down objects into defined shapes and colors.

I write thank-you cards and letters like my great-grandmother taught me. She was my first and favorite pen pal to write to. I can read cursive really well because of her. Although she’s been gone for a few years now, I will always love writing letters and postcards to my loved ones.

All of my Spotify playlists are acoustic love letters to my friends. I listen to their favorite songs and reminisce about our shared moments even if we aren’t close anymore. Sometimes a specific song will transport me back to a memory, and I feel the same way I felt all those years ago.

I love spicy food because my dad does, and he used to lovingly call me “hot sauce” as one of my many nicknames. That was one of the few things he and I got to share without the rest of my sisters.

I will always look out for ladybugs wherever I go because of my grandma. I don’t know where her obsession with them came from, but that doesn’t matter when I think about Sunday morning donuts with ladybug-themed decor covering the walls of her kitchen.

I love jicama, mochi and mango sticky rice because a friend’s mom would always lay out snacks for us even though we would say we weren’t hungry. 

Even though I’m no longer in my “emo phase,” any time I hear a song from that time I remember my friends and our poor eyeliner attempts; our rainy day lunches spent in the library looking at concert tickets we couldn’t afford; and counting down until a new album would be released. We’ve all parted ways by now, but that time in my life will never go away.

The word “hodgepodge” reminds me of a family friend — though I couldn’t tell you how we were related — who I spent a vacation with playing mermaids in the pool. I haven’t thought about her in years, but I still remember how to make my hair look like George Washington’s in the pool because of her.

Any time I hear one specific song, I’m reminded of my college roommates and our pseudo-quarantine semester together having fancy dinners and impromptu dance parties in our falling-apart living room.

There’s no such thing as reinventing yourself when you move somewhere new. I thought I would start over when I moved to college and I’d be a new person when I studied abroad, but there is no me without everyone that has ever been a part of my life. I love my friends, the ones in my life today and the ones that briefly passed through. I truly wouldn’t be the person I am today without them all.

Jackie Rittenhouse is a junior from San Mateo, Calif. majoring in Psychology and Anthropology.

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