The Oberlin Stories Project

On making new friends on a service trip

Charlotte Landes ’13

“Everyone was open to each experience we encountered, greeting each inevitable trial with a smile, a shrug, and a “we’ll figure it out.””

Five people on a marble structure

It’s a funny thing that in attending a small school in a small town there are still so many Obies you will never know. After the “friend rush” of freshman year, it’s easy to settle into a certain group, forge some strong connections and lose the drive to reach out to anyone new. This was largely my experience spring of sophomore and fall of junior year. I had a great group, and junior year I was living with a lot of them. What reason did I have to go out and meet other Obies?

This past spring, most of my good friends were abroad. My village house was no longer full, and campus began to feel lonely at times. I wanted to do a little travelling over spring break, so I signed up for a trip with Immerse Yourself in Service (IYS), a student organization dedicated to providing low-cost service-trip alternatives for spring and fall break. The organization has a membership of trip “leaders,” but one of the goals of IYS is to have a completely democratic trip and not one student telling the others what to do. The leaders hold the money and contact the organizations the volunteers will be working with, but otherwise they are just volunteers like the rest of the group members. Funded partly through the Student Activity Fund and partly through the volunteers themselves, IYS provides trips to four or five service destinations each break. That particular spring, the options were New Orleans, Kentucky, Detroit, South Dakota, and Washington D.C. My group went to Detroit.

Our trip may have been one of the less organized of that break’s IYS trips, but in the end it all worked out, and the trip’s adopted motto, “We’ll figure it out,” proved to be more than sufficient. We had our first complete trip meeting the night before we left, and the next day we were still learning each other’s names when we piled into two vans and set off for the two hour drive to Detroit. We stayed in the living room of a service house on a mess of mattresses and sofas. We slept together, ate together, drove together, and most importantly, worked together. That sort of forced companionship means you really get to know one another.

Maybe our trip drew a certain kind of person, maybe the IYS gods smiled on us, or maybe we were just lucky. Everyone—from the two brave freshmen to the gaggle of upperclassmen—got on famously. Even that very first night, travel worn and weary, we were playing simultaneous Apples to Apples and Jenga and having a truly fantastic time. By the end of the week, I had made friends that comprised a significant part of my post-spring break life. Many of these friends have since graduated, but the times we shared having just met each other a few weeks, days, hours ago reminded me what I love about Obies in general. Everyone was open to each experience we encountered, greeting each inevitable trial with a smile, a shrug, and a “we’ll figure it out.” We succeeded. And beyond that, I figured out what sets Obies apart: the attitude of hard work and cooperation that allows us to “figure out” any challenge.