Two years ago, discussions of college sent me into an absolute panic. I was thrilled about the prospect of attending university classes, but narrowing down 3000 potential schools, applying and choosing a place of enrollment, then making that place my new home? It terrified me. What if I chose the “wrong” school? What if I lost all motivation to do classwork? What if I ended up isolated and sad and alone, as I felt through most of high school?
Well, thanks to an amazing support network of family and friends, my mom’s endless hours of research, and a few spasmodic bursts of creativity in essay-writing, I made it through the application and decision processes. I weighed quantitative and qualitative factors of each institution to which I was accepted and selected a small, relatively unknown liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest.
And what an incredible home it’s been.
Orientation was a crazy blur of learning how navigate the dining hall (my favorite dish/primary reason for waking up in the morning: steel-cut oats with brown sugar and cinnamon), exploring the area around campus, plunging into dorm life, engaging in discussions of identity and respect, and running up to a dog-walking stranger and asking tearfully, “Can I pet your dog? I have the same kind—standard Schnauzer, right?—and I miss them so much!”
This stranger, a grandfatherly electrician, graciously introduced himself and his dog—a nine-month-old puppy named Happy—and listened as I (half-laughing, half-crying) offered to walk or take care of his dog if he ever needed help. After meeting the rest of the family and hanging out with Happy a little more, I enthusiastically agreed to take the exuberant canine for walks a few times each week.
Those walks became a slightly more daunting prospect after the final part of orientation—a backpacking trip in the Olympic Mountains in which I klutzily sprained my ankle on the second of three days. And yet even that turned out to be another blessing. My fellow travelers were so genuinely kind, offering to carry me and my 40+ pound pack down the mountain, that the pain of that final day seemed well worth the reward of discovering wonderful individuals. After getting back on campus, I met more people willing to perform supererogatory duties. My RA made trips to the dining hall to get me bags of ice and gave me tissues when I broke down crying in front of him. Physical therapy grad students at the school helped me design a regimen to rehabilitate post-sprain, improve my running stride, ease back into playing soccer, and prevent future injury. The instructor of an early-morning strength/conditioning class gives me a warm smile and asks, “How’s the ankle?” every time our paths cross, despite the fact that I dropped his class. Innumerable classmates offered to carry my textbooks to class whilst I was on crutches and still ask how my healing is progressing. In short, a new community has shown me all the unquestioning kindness and compassion of an old friend.
That community, which I had assumed would be overseen by endless overcast, drizzly days, has instead been given many glorious sunny afternoons, prompting swarms of Frisbee players, hammock enthusiasts, slack-liners, etc. to overtake the lush green grass on campus.
In describing all the beauty and wonder of these past weeks, I may sound like a wide-eyed newcomer setting herself up for disappointment when reality really sets in. But I am being as tempered in my infatuation as possible. I know Happy’s wild enthusiasm may exasperate me after late nights of studying and insufficient sleep. I know the months of gray skies are coming, during which I may wish to trade the temperate cloudiness of Washington with the clear brilliance of a sunny, bitterly cold Minnesotan day. I know injuries to my mental health may illicit less notice and less sympathy than a sprained ankle, and that may lead me to withdraw into myself and feel sad and alone.
But in those times, I will try to recall all the overflowing gratitude I feel at this time. I will stay active to ensure endorphins will counter-balance Vitamin-D deficiencies, onerous classwork loads, and difficulties in the social realm. I will make art to remind myself of the beauty around me. I will escape into the great outdoors (with less foolhardiness and hopefully less risk of injury) to keep my life in perspective.
And I will really, really hope that oatmeal never comes off the dining hall menu.