Act 1: August 28, 2020
As I pulled up to the Williams Field House, I felt a sense of both excitement and dread wash over me. This was real. I was actually going to college... during a global pandemic. With each step towards the long, physically-distanced line leading towards the check-in, I processed more and more of my situation.
You see, leading up to my cross-country road trip from Utah to Oberlin, I had been in denial that I was going to college. I could not fathom that I was leaving my family, moving 1,692 miles away, and living on my own--especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. I could not imagine my life at Oberlin nor did I want to. I was scared of change. Would people like me? Would I like them? Would I get sick? Would Oberlin end up getting shut down like so many other campuses across the country?
While I stood in line to get tested for COVID-19, my situation started to sink in. Was it too late to turn back? My mind raced with doubts and uncertainties. When a friendly student said “Hi!” and we got to chatting, these doubts were washed away. I realized it was going to be OK, and everyone was in the same boat.
The actual test was uncomfortable (bordering on painful but not quite), and my eyes started tearing up. After being tested, I picked up my snack bag from Wilder and got my college ID. My family then drove all my stuff to the drop-off location in front of Dascomb and we began to unload in a rush. It took a while to find my room because I hadn’t looked at a map of the building, but upon entry, I began to despair. The room looked so empty. The blue, plastic mattresses looked pitiful and the view out of my window was a roof. I was supposed to live there for over 3 months before going home again? I did not want to be there.
We hauled up all my 20-gallon IKEA bags of stuff and hurried to set up my room. My parents had to get back to Utah for work, so they left quickly after we said our tearful goodbyes. I was still teary-eyed as I walked into Dascomb, but the Safety and Security worker told me, “It’s going to be ok, in a couple of weeks you’ll have so many friends you won’t even miss your parents.” I remember hearing this, smiling, and thinking “fat chance.”
After my family left, I went to check out the communal bathroom. I was not excited to share toilets, sinks, and showers with random strangers. The communal kitchen was even less exciting. There is one stove in the entirety of Dascomb and it is password-protected. I began to unpack and discovered that my room had a lot more storage space than I had anticipated, which was good because I brought a ton of stuff. I created a semi-homey environment in my room by hanging art on the walls and setting up string lights, but it still felt very foreign and uncomfortable, very much like a transient camp cabin experience.
The first few days were rough, and it was hard to connect with people. Everyone was looking to make friends, but with social distancing, mask-wearing, and since I mostly hung out with people outdoors in large groups, it was hard to make meaningful connections. After a while, though, I was able to talk to people in more intimate settings, which allowed me to feel more at home and welcome with my fellow Obies. Eventually, I found a place for myself and was sad to leave Oberlin for a month longer than expected, because the start of the spring semester was postponed. After a break that felt like it was simultaneously 1 year and 1 week, I returned to Oberlin.
Act 2: January 27, 2021
My phone buzzed on the table beside my bed. I looked at the bright screen and looked at the time. 3:45 am. Reluctantly, I rolled out of bed and pulled on sweatpants and my Oberlin sweatshirt. After hugging my mom goodbye, I hauled my luggage into the car and stared mindlessly at the road as my dad drove me to the airport. When we stopped at the terminal, I got out, grabbed my luggage, and said goodbye to my dad.
I wandered through the airport and boarded my flight in a haze. Once settled in my seat, with the row to myself due to COVID precautions, I began to reflect. What was I doing? What was I thinking? Flying back to school in the midst of a pandemic that is evolving and continues to ravage our world did not seem like a sound decision. But what was my alternative? Sitting at home in my room and feeling sorry for myself and the world. I was scared to go back, but also so excited. I missed the people I met at Oberlin and the opportunities for learning. As the plane descended into the clouds above Cleveland, I reflected on the last semester. The Oberlin community had made it through the fall semester safely, we could do it again.
As I pulled up to the Oberlin Science Center in a large bus filled with socially-distanced students, I was still nervous, but excited. I dropped my bags in a room in the science building, then walked to the new testing center at Hales Gymnasium. I had more confidence going through the testing process for the 6th time even though it was in a different location. This time, the test was not painful at all since the test worker was more gentle with rubbing the cotton swab in my nose. I grabbed a snack bag, retrieved my luggage, and started the journey towards my dorm room. I live fairly close to the science center, but hauling my 49-pound suitcase and backpack to my building and up the stairs to my room was no easy feat and my arms were sore for days after.
Walking into my room, my dismal blue mattresses were bare and cardboard boxes covered the floor. We had to pack all our belongings into boxes before we left Oberlin in case we could not return in the spring and the college would ship us our belongings. My plan was to unpack just enough that I could sleep, but foolishly, I did not label my boxes with their contents, so I spent many minutes ripping off the tape and searching for my bedsheets. Once I got settled, lying on my bed was calming. It felt nice to be back in my dorm room, weird, but nice.
Dare I say I missed the communal bathrooms? Maybe not quite, but something about walking into the Dascomb bathrooms was very comforting, maybe because I had many a late-night conversation with my friend Ava while we brushed our teeth. I did not miss the password-protected oven, which requires the loudest fan to be turned on to work (the fan is for fire safety, but it definitely is not made for ear safety), but I did miss making shared meals with my friends. Unpacking was somehow worse the second time around, and I realized I had so many things in boxes that I never used during the first semester but I kept them in my room because I could not take them home with me on the plane. It was a surprising and confusing experience to unpack because I forgot what I left in boxes and what I took home with me. Eventually, after 5 days, I was fully unpacked and my room was back to its former cluttered-cozy glory.
Now, I am through the third week of classes, and I am getting settled back into my Oberlin life. The rate of COVID positivity for people in the Oberlin testing system was much lower than I thought it would be, and so far Oberlin has controlled the spread of COVID. I am excited to be back and be around people my age all the time. Move-in was stressful the first and second time, but I am so thrilled to be back on campus!
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