After my first year at Oberlin, I thought I knew everybody that I needed to know. I had made a lot of good friends, and I also had my group of best friends I knew would be my friends for life. I was very content with how my first year had gone. I had done well in my classes and had increased by friend circle to the point where I would walk down the street and run into at least 10 people I knew. In a year, Oberlin and the people in it had started to feel like home, while it had taken me 13 years to feel the same way about my school in India. But the thought of going back to college for my second year filled me with terror. The reason for this fear was my decision to walk onto the varsity field hockey team in spring 2014. Despite all my friends, I felt like a first-year all over again—scared and all alone.
In high school, in addition to academics, I was a member of four varsity teams. This seemingly impossible feat was made possible by the fact that in India varsity sports don’t follow the same rigorous season schedule sports follow here. While soccer and track and field were my main sports—soccer during the fall, and track and field all year round—I also played field hockey and softball during my Physical Education lessons, and took part in occasional inter-school competitions. We would always win because the level of competition for girls was very low due to unequal opportunities given to boys and girls. (This, however, is changing now!) I had become so accustomed to dividing my time between sports and academics that the lack of physical activities threw me off when I came to college. To compensate, I joined the co-ed club soccer team my first semester, but this was not enough so I spoke to the field hockey coach my second semester and tried out for the team. I decided to give it a shot because field hockey was always a sport I was interested in pursuing further, but I had never gotten the chance, and because I knew a couple of girls on the team and liked them.
The cause for my distress in the fall was my fear of not being accepted by the team, and the varsity world in general. Because many of the girls were two-sport athletes and others were out with injuries, I didn’t really know many of the girls on the team despite practicing with them in the spring. Even though I had made two good friends, I still felt like an outsider. I felt like a first-year all over again, except this time, I wasn’t entering a completely new world where people didn’t know each other; rather, I was trying to be accepted into an already-formed and close-knit community. And I was scared.
Suffice it to say things worked out fine. A camaraderie developed—probably born out of undergoing the rigors of preseason together—which blossomed into close friendships over the course of the season. Looking back, I don’t know how I became close to my teammates and to members of other varsity teams—all I know is I did and I am happier for it. Now, as I look forward to welcoming the incoming class of 2019, I want to translate what I have learned from my experiences into my daily actions by being kind and friendly when I encounter new people because I know what it feels like to be scared and to feel out of place. One person’s kindness can go a long way in making someone’s day, and I was lucky enough to experience this kindness from a whole community.
I am happier than I have ever been before; the team has become one of my closest support systems in college. I haven’t forgotten my old friends once I made these new friends. Rather, I’ve just increased the number of people who I have given my heart to. I am content with my life. I am still doing well in my academics, and I have a broader friend base and close friends who I probably wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t taken a chance. I am happily tired at the end of each day because I know I’ve made the most of the 24 hours in my day, and I have a team that loves and supports me. I chased after my dreams, discovered my courage, and moved past my fear by embracing the initial nervousness and discomfort. College is a time to experiment, follow your heart, and do things that challenge you because, even though the chances of pain and rejection are high, the returns are higher.