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Finding a home away from home

Posted October 20th, 2011 by UHDS News

Three years ago I contemplated dropping out of college. Out of my 10 siblings, I was the first one to attend a four-year university. I did not know what to expect. I still remember the excitement I felt when my parents dropped me off. However, the enthusiasm and excitement quickly dissolved. I never thought I would miss home so much.

I grew up in Woodburn, Oregon, where the majority of the population is Latino/a. Moving to a town with a population of less than 6 percent Latino/as was a very difficult transition. During fall term I went home every weekend, I missed “real” Mexican food, my mom’s cooking, and all my friends.  Even though I didn’t have a car, I would always make my way back to Woodburn. I asked for rides, carpooled, and had my parents pick me up. If everything else failed, I would turn to my last resort: the Greyhound! The weekends at home couldn’t go by any faster, and the weekdays in Corvallis couldn’t go by any slower.

Being a person of color in a predominately white institution (PWI) comes with its challenges. I found it difficult to relate to most of my classmates. I felt like I couldn’t be myself and still fit in.  Communities with a large minority population have their own culture, norms, sense of humor, way of talking, and many times these norms are different than those of the dominant culture. While I loved Corvallis, this sense of normality was missing. I couldn’t find a group of people I could call friends – people who shared similar stories, passions, and backgrounds as me.

No place on campus felt like home. Many of my friends asked me why I went home so often and even made fun of me. At first, I was unaware of this unwritten rule. Many times conversations turned awkward when it was my turn to explain my “crazy” weekend. I began to feel embarrassed to them the truth, so I either avoided the question or said I was studying all weekend.  I began to lock myself in my room, snooze through classes, and not care about my grades. During Week 4 I failed my first midterm. I felt miserable and began to contemplate dropping out of school. I feared I was becoming a statistic; another “Latino drop-out.” I felt like I had no one to turn to for help; I knew none of my family would understand having never attended college.

Luckily a friend began to invite me to events sponsored by the Centro Cultural César Chávez (CCCC). I began to meet new people and become more involved on campus.   Thanks to my friend, I also found a place on campus that felt like home, the CCCC. The CCCC had events that served food that tasted like home. I began to meet people with whom I could relate; the more friends I made, the more involved I became on campus. Eventually, my involvement with CCCC gave me the courage to seek out the Student Leadership and Involvement homepage and saw OSU had hundreds of clubs and organizations. I became involved with the OSU Soccer Club Team, and Omega Delta Phi, a non-housed, multicultural, community-based fraternity. Becoming more involved on campus and seeking out resources helped me build a support network. I now felt I had a reason to stay in school. I began to feel a sense of belonging. As I became more involved on campus my grades began to rise and I began to go home less often.

The transition to college can be very difficult for many students but there are many resources on campus that can help. Feeling homesick is natural for everyone. Being a Student of Color at a PWI can exacerbate these feelings. Homesickness becomes a problem when it begins to hinder your academics or health. If you begin to feel depressed, I encourage you to take full advantage of the resources available. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is free for students and is located on the fifth floor of Snell Hall. A rough transition can also lead to poor grades or bad studying habits. The Academic Success Center (ASC) located in Waldo Hall is a great resource.  The ASC allows you to work with an academic coach to build skills to become a successful college student. The best way I found to get connected to campus is meeting new people and getting involved.  Check out the Student Leadership and Involvement website. Did you know OSU has more than 300 clubs and organizations? Getting involved with clubs and organizations is not only a great way to meet people who share similar passions as you, it also helps you network, build a support system, and become a leader on campus.

Most importantly, I encourage you to think about how you are helping to create an inclusive and safe community for your roommates and floor mates. How would you feel if you paid money to live in a place that does not feel like home? Every resident plays a role in building a safe and welcoming community. If you know someone who goes home every weekend or is not close to people on their floor, make an effort to invite them to events, programs or floor dinners. Try to find out their story and perspective before making judgments. I wish someone had reached out to me, now I work on reaching out to others.

Thank you for reading and good luck with your fall term!

Miguel Arellano, Community Relations Facilitator

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