Choosing to attend Oberlin was not the obvious choice for me. I came from a Middle College program that targeted “at risk” students; instead of taking AP classes, I attended the local community college with the intention of earning my associates degree and then transferring to a four-year institution. As a result, I wasn’t used to the environment at Oberlin. I was used to my community college, with an array of classmates that included single mothers, international refugees, elementary school wunderkinds, and reformed gang members. I was used to my high school classmates, most of whom were the first in their families go to college at all. I knew I was lucky to have this privilege. But I also knew I was in a whole new world the moment I stepped foot on campus, and it scared the hell out of me! Before I knew it, I was crying, afraid that I would be too different for this place, that it could and would eat me, chew me up and spit me all the way back to California.
OK. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: everyone is so afraid when they first start college! More often than not, they’re afraid of not fitting into a new space, of not finding a niche. That’s why it’s an automatic impulse for the new college student to look for a home away from home. The dorm experience helped me; starting off living in Third World House was indeed a beginning that I still treasure. However, I felt like I missing something. I realized that feeling safe in the room I slept in was one thing, but finding that comfort on the greater campus I explored every day was a whole other story.
Moments before I (quite dramatically) figured that all hope was lost and that I should have gone to college 15 minutes away from my house, I remembered the Asian/Pacific American first-year picnic that I had attended several days before. There were four people grilling the burgers and hot dogs that day: the community coordinators of the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC). I met all of them eagerly, although I was hesitant to say that the reason why I was so excited to shake their hands was because I was ecstatic to see communities — APA, Latin@, Queer, and Africana — helping each other, in solidarity with each other. It was what I was looking for! Nicole, the Africana community coordinator, encouraged me to apply to work at the MRC. I didn’t think that I, a lowly first year with meager Photoshop experience, would have much of a chance at being hired, but I poured my heart into that application, and I was hired to be the MRC’s Student Publicity Associate.
This is going to sound saccharine, but my first day of work at the MRC was the first day of a love story. My bosses, the community coordinators and the director of the MRC, Eric Estes, were not only mentors who guided me, but friends who laughed and complained with me and who asked me how my day was and actually cared about my answer. On those old couches, I met my best friends, my first crushes, my study buddies, and allies in the struggle. The walls of that office, the blare of the TV that’s always on, and the chatter of students taking a break for lunch didn’t isolate me from the rest of campus. Rather, the MRC serves as my springboard; as a timid first-year, it gave me the strength to go out into the frightening unfamiliarity of campus and thrive because I knew I had a home to go back to.
Two years later, it’s not that I no longer feel afraid. But I do believe that for everyone at Oberlin there is a comfy space. Maybe it’s tucked away in a faraway corner of the arboretum, maybe it’s in disguise as the friendship of a roommate or professor. Some find it in their dorms, others in study carrels, research labs, co-ops, student organizations — the list goes on. The point is that there is something important to remember when you feel alone: whether it’s in one best friend or an entire department, somewhere at Oberlin you will find your home away from home.