Oberlin Blogs

Settling Down

January 20, 2017

Lilah Drafts-Johnson ’18

2016 was a nomadic year for me. With my purple suitcase in tow, I took 16 flights in the past year and lived in 6 different homes for a month or more at a time. These temporary residencies in various cities and countries have made me reluctant to decorate my new single in Spanish House, where I will be living for the spring semester. I've reflected on past homes in a previous blog post, but as I settle back into a community I will be with for the next 1.5 years, I want to pay homage to the places and people who have hosted me this past year.

Last January, I was greeted by my host mother Fermina at her home in Guadalajara, Mexico. My room was small and cozy, and had two beds - one for me, and one for a giant stuffed bear that a previous student had left behind. I loved my mornings in the house. Fermina and I would wake up early and share breakfast together - usually migas, a tortilla and egg mix cooked in a skillet, and a cup of instant coffee. I took the bus to school with another Oberlin student, Amanda, and we would have about 6 hours of class in Spanish before returning home for a late lunch. My bus rides in Guadalajara were how I became friends with Amanda. One particular bus ride constitutes one of my favorite memories of that month. We were traveling into the center of town for a night out, sitting together in silence so as not to give away the foreignness in the accents of two young women traveling alone. The silence was comfortable and I remember smiling as I recognized the beautiful feeling of new friendship. It had been a month of newness to me - my first time out of the country and first time being immersed in a different language and culture - and I had found familiarity in another student who also loved the challenges that the opportunity brought.

My home for the spring semester at Oberlin was a beautiful room in Baldwin Cottage, the women and transpeople dorm on campus. My roommate, India, was the real driver of the aesthetic in the room. Her side of the room had carefully placed polaroids, maps and artsy posters. My side was dominated by various schnoodle pictures that I had only put up when India complained about my lack of decoration. We enjoyed Sunday morning snuggles and weekday night tea talks, and when our RA gave us Pokemon Balls as door name tags, we spent weeks deliberating which Pokemon would best represent each of our personalities before finally putting two on the door.

San Francisco was the first time I lived alone. I had a nice studio apartment in the Outer Mission, and would take a quick 25 minute bus or BART to get to City Hall everyday for work. Because it was only an 8-week stint, I didn't bring much to decorate. I had a small picture collage on the door of my closet, and a puzzle that I would do after work on the table by my bed. It was easy to get lonely there, and I spent a lot of my time in the small kitchen of the apartment. The budget allotted by my program was generous enough that I was able to try different things in the kitchen, and I enjoyed making myself nice dinners and trying new dessert recipes.

From there, I flew home to Boston for 36 hours before heading to Santiago, Chile. I spent the first month at a homestay in the commune of Providencia with a widowed woman who hosted me. It was a homey apartment, but certain factors out of my control necessitated a change in location, so within a month I was re-packing my tired purple suitcase to move to another home.

In Nuñoa, roughly twenty minutes from my last homestay, I shared a home with a woman and her 24-year-old daughter. I had a spacious room with a desk that overlooked the parking lot of an apartment building next door, and I enjoyed watching the children play games and yell outside while I studied and did homework. In the evening I would have tea and crackers with my host mother while we watched the news and talked about our days.

I really like my new room in La Casa. My bed is lofted, for space's sake, and when I wake up I like to sleepily watch South Bowl come to life in the morning. The giant Chilean flag that my teammates in Santiago signed hangs over my desk, and pictures of high school and college friends are scattered on the walls as well. When I arrived at Oberlin, I had a box of goodies from the NCAA waiting for me - it contained my All-American trophy, medal, and certificate from the spring, and my coaches had been holding onto it for me. Those decorate one of my shelves near my bed along with pictures of my coaches and teammates.

What my room does not have, however, is my Mexican host mother Fermina, my best friend India, my Chilean host mother María Isabel or host sister Camila. The places that I called home this past year were made homes by the people who welcomed me there, and without them I wonder how I will make my new space a home. Luckily - my neighbors in La Casa, as well as the Foreign Language Teaching Assistants, have already made me feel welcome in my short time there. I am looking forward to the community feel that La Casa promises, because a single can be a solitary housing life to live. Still - it feels comforting to have my purple suitcase tucked deep under my bed. After a year of travel, I'm excited to stay put in a place I call home, at least for a little bit longer.

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