As College Students, Where Do We Belong?

After a year of living in a dorm room, you start to consider it a home. Moving off-campus for a summer — or a semester, depending on which class you are in — feels like leaving that home for good. As college students, we are not meant to find one home on campus; we are constantly moving from building to building. This truly struck me as I packed up my first-year room, very aware of the fact that I could not leave anything — or I would be charged $50. 

Although campus becomes our home, we do not have a definite home base. Each summer, many of us return to our original home, leaving nothing in Oberlin. This fluidity makes it difficult to navigate a sense of place. Not only must we navigate career aspirations, social life, and figuring out how to live without much guidance, but we must also learn to balance many homes.  

The pandemic turned this already-tricky process even knottier. In normal years, most students would leave Oberlin in the summer, sharing a break from this collective home. However, the need to de-densify campus led Oberlin’s administration to decide on a three-semester system, pushing one class off campus each term, while the rest of the student body remained on Oberlin’s grounds. 

Off-campus, we miss the energy of move-in day, the frenzied first day of classes, the rollercoaster that is finals week, and the tears as everyone moves out. Although we all got a chance to experience these landmarks of a semester at college, it was disjointed; we were not truly together as an Oberlin student body throughout this year. The distance fostered a fear of missing out and guilt for not being in Oberlin to take part. But we had no choice but to distance ourselves from the campus as others wove a web of a semester’s memories. 

Social media and Campus Digest emails constantly exposed us to daily life at Oberlin, through pictures of a filled Wilder Bowl on a sunny afternoon, the day’s menus, links to virtual events, and advertisements for club meetings. With COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, events and meetings are being held in-person, making it that much more difficult to stay involved from afar. Stuck in our original homes, we watched our secondary home fill up with laughter and passion. 

I imagine many students first tried to stay in touch with campus; I certainly did. The Campus Digest emails are a big help in staying connected. They serve as daily reminders of professors’ and students’ awards, reopenings, club events, and informational sessions. But it’s the summer now, with gorgeous weather and everyone itching to get back in-person. There are barely any virtual events, and it is tiring to constantly be wishing you are in a place you cannot be. 

Even if there were still many online possibilities, how much of my time should I pour into Oberlin? There is a sense of obligation to Oberlin as our home, our school, and a safe space for many. But there is also a conflicting obligation to my original home, New York, where I am spending the summer. Shouldn’t I be prioritizing my New York community while I am here? 

Our original homes educated us and shaped our worldviews and passions, readying us for Oberlin. As everyone complains about having to be home for a semester, it discredits the effort our communities put into making us who we were when we got to Oberlin. Rather than looking at this semester off as time away from Oberlin, I have come to view it as time to appreciate my original home.  

Unfortunately, as valuable as some time off may be, it does lead to a jumbled sense of place. It is even worse when only part of me feels distant from Oberlin. I feel pulled between Oberlin and New York, and I cannot drop either entirely. It’s hard to answer — where is our place? 

As we explore this question, each of us winds up in a slightly different situation. Some may choose to read the Campus Digest daily and go to every virtual event. Others may throw themselves entirely into their original home and put Oberlin largely out of their minds. I have taken to reading through the Review, occasionally scrolling through Instagram pictures of beautiful Oberlin, and using this column as a way to reflect on my year as an Obie. Even in a non-wacky year, multiple home-bases and distance from Oberlin is something students learn to manage. It just takes a bit more effort when campus is alive with student life.