Beyond the Automatic Glass Doors

"I don’t think anybody really knows how that sense of belonging is going to hit. It’s so different for everyone."


John Glenn Columbus International Airport often elicits mixed emotions from Kenyon students. An assortment of sighs, impassioned complaints and hopeful longing for warmer skies can be dissected from the reactions. The airport itself is pretty average; not too large and not too small. Perfectly adequate, one might say. Personally, it was my first taste of Ohio. I didn’t hate it, although I still don’t understand the carpeted floors that I always struggle to drag my suitcases across.

The day in August 2021, when I first landed at Columbus, I barely experienced the airport. I was too nervous, too excited and too apprehensive about everything outside of those automatic glass doors. 

I remember my bags came in wet from the tarmac because it was raining outside. It rains a lot in Ohio. I always had a disdain for rain before. Back home, it was cold and muddy and the roads would flood for hours if it rained. The hem of my shalwar would be drenched with rainwater every time. I felt a bit subdued by this weather, but in the frenzy of everything, I was suddenly whisked out of the airport and seated in a rental car driving to Gambier. I remember I had so many thoughts. So many colliding feelings, but I knew that this overwhelming pool of emotion meant something. I just didn’t know what.

Kenyon didn’t really feel like home at the beginning. To be fair, I wasn’t looking for a home here. I moved a lot when I was a kid and that state of impermanence stuck with me. Yet I still wanted to belong. Like every other international student near me, I wanted to embrace Kenyon and be welcomed by it in return. I don’t think I was immediately able to grasp that feeling. Being at Kenyon felt like finally acquiring a jacket you really wanted to buy, but once you got it, the fit wasn’t quite right. Too late now, I thought. 

I don’t think anybody really knows how that sense of belonging is going to hit. It’s so different for everyone, but it’s an innate feeling. It never comes all at once, or even that suddenly. It approaches slowly, in waves of transition. Slowly, you realize, you’ve never seen leaves so orange. The sky looks like a painting as the sun sets over the post office. The glimpse of a shy cat leaves you giddy as you scramble for your phone to document the sighting for your friends. You kind of start to look forward to certain Peirce dishes even if it’ll never compare to your mom’s cooking. Slowly, Kenyon starts to mean something more than just the college you attend.

Everyone tells you that it’ll be a big change but a wonderful one. You’ll miss your family but you’ll achieve so much. It’s going to be lonely but you’ll meet so many new friends. Those are comforting lies. There is truth in each one, but nobody can ever truly encapsulate how hard it is to leave everything you know and embark on a journey like this. You will be tested, challenged and held to standards you didn’t even know were possible. But you will survive. You will persist. 

"There is warmth in the embrace of the people you will find to love here and there is exhilaration in the freedom of exploring your passions."

Syeda Rida Zaneb '25

Friends at Kenyon aren’t really found — they’re made with love, respect and effort. Your academics will vex you but reward you with a newfangled sense of accomplishment. The food will taste better as it becomes familiar to your tongue. The paths won’t look so long and twisted anymore. I won’t say it’s a linear process.

There are days Kenyon still feels completely alien to me. I feel like a character walking through a story that isn’t mine. But those days pass. There is warmth in the embrace of the people you will find to love here and there is exhilaration in the freedom of exploring your passions.

I found myself in John Glenn again a few days ago. I was returning from spring break in my second year at Kenyon. This time, however, I was jarred by how comfortable I was in myself while navigating the space. I was relieved to be going back to Kenyon; a feeling I used to wonder if I would ever achieve during my freshman year. That potion of emotions I had felt just two years ago had been replaced with mental to-do lists and an eagerness to return to my cozy dorm bed. I still don’t really know if Kenyon is my home. But I know a piece of me will always live here, tucked safely in the folds of memories on top of the hill.