Coming to college was a pretty big leap for me—8,285 miles to be exact. I was raised in Myanmar my whole life but after a 24 hour plane ride I was in Oberlin. Having never visited the campus, I had no idea where I was landing. And out of all the chaotic events that happened during orientation, I only distinctly remember the goodbye that my mom and I exchanged. Her last words, “I want you to come back whenever you feel unhappy,” comforted me. They were exactly what I needed to hear in finding the strength to simply be okay in a foreign place.
My first few days at Oberlin flew by at full speed. Names were introduced and forgotten; faces only vaguely recognized. It was only during the Bonner Scholars orientation that I felt welcomed and comfortable. There were 15 Bonner Scholars (also known as Baby Bonners) in my year along with our Bonner advisor. We played ice breakers and shared our fears and worries as incoming first-years. My fellow Bonners were the first group of people I had a chance to finally feel comfortable with. Despite the fact that we came from different places with various histories, we all felt nervous, excited, confused, and unsure of this place called Oberlin where we would be spending our next four years. That realization in itself reassured and comforted me.
One of the perks of being a Bonner Scholar is that I was expected to do 10 hours of community service every week in order to receive my semester stipend. I’d always enjoyed doing community service but now getting a stipend to do community service seemed like a really good deal to me. My service sites were Kendal at Oberlin and the Oberlin Project, and, to this day, I’ve interned at each site every week since. Less than a mile from Oberlin, Kendal is an old age residential home where students can volunteer. Between the amusing conversations and interesting company I’ve had with the residents, I’ve also heard amazing insights and knowledge from their life experiences. On the other hand, the Oberlin Project, which started out as a joint effort between the college and the town, serves to promote and maintain sustainable practices in Oberlin. Volunteering there has exposed me to the residents in the town, as well as educated me about current sustainability issues and concerns.
In addition to the rewarding experiences I’ve gotten from my service sites, over the past two years, the little house known as the Bonner Center became my go-to place. Whenever I was stressed or needed advice, I could always rely on my Bonner advisor for emotional and mental support. Everybody there always has smiles and often free food whenever I walked through the door. The Bonner Center was like a little safe haven within the chaotic college life, not just for Bonner Scholars but for all students. As a result, my non-Bonner friends have also received all kinds of help. When in a new place, a little support can do wonders. I remember in my first year struggling with one of my classes and, upon voicing that concern to my Bonner advisor, she offered me a list of resources I could utilize that I had not known about. Throughout the semester, whenever she saw me, she would always ask about how I was doing in that class. Since then, I have known that her care and support for students goes far beyond that of an advisor; it was that of a friend and a guardian.
I am grateful for the help Bonner Center has given me. Most of my fellow Bonner Scholars are my closest friends, and the center itself has become my second home. I am lucky to have found one while I am away from home.