Where is home for me?
This is a question that many international students ponder. Most of us traveled thousands of miles from our home countries and found ourselves in the middle of rural Ohio in pursuit of knowledge and a small liberal arts school experience. From confronting culture shock to overcoming homesickness, my peers have tackled several obstacles just within their first few days on this beautiful hill.
As someone who has already studied in the U.S. for four years, my experience is slightly different. I had visited Kenyon twice and spent two weeks at the Kenyon Review Young Writers Program prior to arriving on the Hill. “Gut feeling” is glorified in the college admission process, but I knew that I belonged at Kenyon the first time I stepped onto campus. My heart never left this place after the magical summer, during which I workshopped my poetry and prose with talented peers and met friends who I still talk to regularly a month into college.
The international students in my high school were the group I was “supposed” to belong to, but I was outcast for my “Americanness.” Coming out as transgender widened the distance between us due to the lack of knowledge and awareness in various cultures. Therefore, when I first heard about spending two weeks with only other international students at Kenyon’s pre-Orientation, I was a little intimidated.
But soon, our peer advisors and other international students proved me wrong with their unyielding kindness and hospitality. Advisors Coco, Hamza, and Raul mentored us, organized activities, and presented college in a new, exciting light by being themselves. They showed me how much of a close-knit group the international students are. In previous years, the CGE (Center For Global Engagement) would host a big dinner with all the international students on campus. This year, the dinner was virtual, but the people made the experience just as valuable. The upperclassmen were always eager to help — telling us their favorite professors and classes, the cheapest places to buy necessary gear for the Ohio winter, and the best food and drinks around town. They checked on me when my phone broke on my first day of college and helped me to get it fixed.
The amazing staff at the CGE, Rebecca, Sam, Marne and Meghan, made our first weeks here as comfortable as possible. They picked up students from the airport (sometimes late at night), answered questions we had no matter how trivial they were, delivered mails and necessities to our dorm rooms, and planned out orientation activities during an uncertain time.
During the pre-Orientation sessions, we learned about American culture and about specific parts of Kenyon culture that make this such a special place. We got to know the Kenyon curriculum, but more importantly, got to know each other — 18 bright-headed, open-hearted young adults from 16 different countries. We discovered that a lot of us are interested in cooking and baking, so we planned to organize an international cookout and ask the dean of students to be the judge.
On the last day of pre-Orientation, we spent our afternoon session designing a Kenyon T-shirt. The director of the Center for Global Engagement, Marne, said that during her decades of working with the international students, the T-shirts created by students have the most memorable designs. We had heated discussions about the design — long sleeve or short sleeve, crew neck or V-neck, what letters to put on the front and back. In the end, we followed the majority votes and there were no hard feelings. This bonding activity demonstrated the possibilities of collaboration before we even stepped into the classrooms, and what a community in Gambier, Ohio, looks like.
Because the start of the year at Kenyon looked a little different this year due to COVID-19 and the necessary social distancing rules, my peers and I have expressed similar fears of not making friends during the first semester. Pre-Orientation provided us with the comfort and security of knowing that we are not and never will be alone. My friends told me that there is no such thing as “supposing” to belong; you will find your people. I believe that at Kenyon, I will find my people.