The Oberlin Stories Project

On making friends

Emily Brennan ’15

“The benefits of the meaningful conversations I had with my new friends outside of the classroom were robust... My friends became my teachers — a true Oberlin education.”

A group of friends at night, some of them sprawled on the grass

I grew up in a small rural farm town in upstate New York with a population of 3,000. I had a few good friends growing up, but overall I was shy, reserved, and had a difficult time opening up to new people. Throughout high school, I constantly worried that I would not be able to make friends in college and convinced myself that I should be content alone.

Upon arrival at Oberlin for freshman year, the swarms of new students and the friendships they seemed to seamlessly foster intimidated me. I stayed in my room on many weekend nights and was too afraid to get to know my classmates, or perhaps I just didn’t know how. Social situations during freshman orientation overwhelmed me, and the easiest and most natural reaction for me was to retreat into solitude.

In the beginning, I was content with my lack of social life — after all, this lifestyle was nothing new to me. I became absorbed in my studies and the many opportunities that Oberlin offered. I played soccer and attended jazz forum on Fridays at the Cat. As I spent more time at Oberlin, my mind was opened to a new world of ideas. I was challenged by my coursework and by fellow students. While at first I found myself shying away from confrontation and challenging discussions, I soon began to grow and my confidence strengthened.

With time, I began to feel more comfortable with being myself. I realized I was unhappy alone and my peers were not as intimidating as I thought. As I opened up and my confidence grew, making friends came naturally. I really noticed this change after I made my first thoughtful comment in my freshman seminar, Media and Memory. After class, a particularly bright student, by whom I was very intimidated, approached me and told me she really like what I had said. We began talking and became good friends. I finally felt I could have fun, be myself, and really get to know the people I was spending time with. As my social life stabilized, my self-esteem rose, and I was more capable of appreciating the Oberlin community. I quickly realized that although Oberlin is an academic institution, an intrinsic part of the Oberlin experience is fostering healthy social relationships, and I had been missing out. Moreover, the benefits of the meaningful conversations I had with my new friends outside of the classroom were robust, ranging from more serious discussions of current events to less serious but nonetheless insightful discussions of new music. My friends became my teachers — a true Oberlin education.

Two years later, I can look back on my initial time at Oberlin and reflect on how I’ve grown. I now know that I have made lifelong friends, but at the time, I expected that my friendships would remain distant and impersonal. I have become a confident and social individual and I owe this to Oberlin. The Oberlin community encourages you to find yourself, foster your own beliefs, and cultivate your opinions. Oberlin forced me to face my fears of expressing myself and the outcome has been life changing.