The first couple months I was in college felt really, really lonely. They do for a lot of people. The friendships I was clinging to all felt just a little bit fake because none of us really knew each other yet. There's no way around it— feeling emotionally close to people takes time. During that time, Oberlin was not home; it was just another place far from it. Lots of people were my friendly acquaintances or my surface-level friends, but there were questions nagging at the back of my head— Who's gonna be my second family here? Or, In some kind of emergency, who would take care of me?
As my first semester went on, the connections I had to the people around me started to feel more and more genuine. In my dorm, a big part of what made friendships grow deeper was the ways that we took care of each other. Thankfully, I got to be a part of Latinx Hall (which has since evolved into Latinx House), a community space dedicated to Latinx students at Oberlin. I am not going to try to sell you every Oberlin dorm as this kind of tight-knit community— most of them are not— but I got lucky. I lived with people who lived with each other rather than just near each other, and the more I lived with them, the more the questions in the back of my head changed. They started to emerge only as they were already being answered, and they became less like an existential nagging and more like a satisfied purr. Less often an expression of doubt and more often an expression of faith, the real questions became, Who makes you tea when you're sick? Who blasts music you can hear down the hallway? Who explains course registration? Who makes you laugh when they play fight in the lounge? Who do you lend your heating pad to when they have cramps? Who makes fun of you for being incompentent with a can opener, then opens the can? Who makes you text them when you get home safe? Who asks you to be their wake-up alarm backup? Who invites you to hang out in their room? Who distracts you from studying? Who knocks on your door asking if you have a red shirt? Who waits for you to walk to your 10am class together? Who comes back from an event in Lorain and leaves the extra arroz con habichuela on the table in the lounge for everyone to take it? Who gives the best hugs? Who makes here feel like home?
I remember the moment when I noticed the switch. It was a brisk Saturday in November and I hadn't seen my friend Karla, who lived a few doors down from me, for over a day. She hadn't responded to any of the messages or memes I'd sent her on a few different platforms since the day before, which was unusual for her, and she was fifteen minutes late to Movimiento, the dance group we were in. Then something weird happened— I got worried. I went out into the hallway to call her, but she didn't pick up. All these scenarios went through my mind of how she could've been kidnapped or had some kind of breakdown or somehow not been okay. She got there a few minutes later all in one piece, and I found myself saying to her, "I was worried about you!!!" The words surprised me as they left my mouth— I sounded like someone's mom.
What I came to learn over the course of my first year at Oberlin was that sometimes, when you're living in a community of people away from home, you're all kind of each other's moms. I felt it first with my RA, who was the one who explained everything to me when I first got to campus. Not only did she give me a sense of how to go where I needed to go and do what I needed to do, but she also offered emotional support, occasional gossip, and important context about Oberlin— the kind you wouldn't hear straight from the institution. A couple months in, once the dynamic started to feel more familiar, some of the other first-years on my floor and I affectionately nicknamed her "Hall Mom" because of all the guiding, motherly energy she was throwing at us. Eventually, though, I came to recognize guidance and familiarity in many more of the bonds I had made too. Most of the time it came in a reciprocal, horizontal way between first-years, and some of the time it came from second- and third-years who cared when they didn't have to. There were still gaps and holes at times, but we checked in on our sick friends. We lent each other things. We helped each other to understand the place we were in. We made Oberlin feel like home.