In my role as a Peer Advising Leader (PAL), I get to see firsthand the adjustment my group of first-years are going through. As a student just out of my first year of college, I remember that adjustment period well. In our first LEAD 050 session (a class PALs teach to help new students adjust academically and socially to Oberlin), they voiced struggles I recognized, but at this point are things that are normal to me: class schedules, heavy reading loads, the dining halls, the list goes on. What I didn’t expect was that as a second-year, there would still be a challenging adjustment period, one from which I feel I am only just emerging.
In the days leading up to my departure from home, I was really upset about leaving my family again. Once I got on the plane, I was better, and when I made it back to Oberlin after a long day of traveling I was really happy to be back. But then I remembered that none of my friends were back yet, since I had arrived early for PAL training. When you live at college, and periodically go home, it’s really hard to separate people and places. They are intertwined to such an extent that going to the place when the people are absent is pretty jarring. So as happy as I was to get back to Oberlin, my group of friends from last year weren’t here. I was living in a brand new dorm and training for my PAL job with a large group of completely new people. It was wonderful to meet so many people within my first week back, but I felt the absence of my friends pretty viscerally. Many students come to Oberlin for the people—I am no different, and even though meeting new people reminds me how great everyone is here, I still didn’t have my people.
Then came orientation. While my orientation experience this year PALES in comparison to my first-year orientation, it was still difficult! After a pretty chill week with barely anyone on campus, Oberlin was inundated suddenly with new students and their families. I have never seen the dining hall so packed—the line was literally out the door!! While it was exciting to meet my group of first-years to provide guidance and resources to them during that first week, it was also mentally and emotionally exhausting. As an introvert, it was a lot of social output, and a lot of responsibility, and even though I LOVE my job (like, so much), negotiating working with the first-years AND trying to form new friendships of my own was challenging. I don’t say this to trivialize the experience of a new student—that’s exhausting on a whole other level, but I was surprised that orientation was tiring for me, too.
Once my friends started to get back to campus, I was happy, but not as happy as I expected. I eat in a co-op this year, but most of my friends from last year are still in CDS (Campus Dining Services). So even though they were back on campus, I wasn’t seeing them 2-3 times a day at meals. It was frustrating to have them so near and yet not see them. The separation felt more apparent somehow. That, and I didn’t know anyone in my co-op yet. A lot of students in Tank are upperclassmen and returners, and it seemed that they all knew each other. The contrast between co-op eating and sitting with people I know and love several times a day was pretty striking. Luckily, the people in Tank are super great, and I’m starting to get to know them better. I don’t regret joining a co-op at all (seriously, it’s so amazing), but I’ve definitely struggled socially at certain points over the past few weeks.
Once classes started, I realized just how much I signed up to do this semester. In addition to taking the usual four-class load, I’m a PAL and have to teach LEAD 050, and I’m co-teaching the Girls in Motion ExCo again, which takes me to 20 credits. I’m now a DLEC (Dining Loose Ends Coordinator) for my co-op and I might be choreographing a duet with a friend for the department dance show this fall. So, while these are all things I’m really passionate about and love doing, they suddenly moved from the abstract to the concrete and I became overwhelmed. Things are starting to fall into place, but it still gets stressful and overwhelming at times. Sometimes I wake up and 16 hours later I get back to my room and realize I haven’t stopped all day. By taking things one day at a time, I’ve been able to keep the stress and anxiety at bay, but making time for myself is a continuous challenge. Sometimes I have been choosing to see people (because I don’t see them at meals anymore) rather than choosing alone time. It’s not easy. But I know things will work out, and they are starting to already.
TL;DR: Balance is hard and there’s still an adjustment period, even when you’re no longer a first-year. I (maybe naïvely) assumed that because I made it through my first year, I would be able to cope easily and everything would be smooth-ish sailing from here on out. It was hard for me to accept that being a second-year would also take some adjusting. As a first-year, you KNOW it’s going to be hard. Everything is new and different, and you’re undergoing a tremendous amount of change in such a short period of time. Of course it’s going to be hard! But as a second-year, I thought I would have it all figured out. And I don’t. But I’ll get there. And in just the month (!!!) that I’ve been back at Oberlin, I feel like I have formed so many great new friendships with wonderful people. I am excited for what this year will bring. I just need a minute to figure it all out.