Same place, new person

I should've brought my scarf.

The early October air is sharp. It plunges daggers of chilled wind into me as I step out of Collins Hall. It's 8:27 in the morning and I have three minutes to get from East Quad to McGuffey Hall. Impossible.

I should just go back to bed. I don't ever speak to anyone in this class, and sleep sounds really, really good. I could just turn around, head back upstairs and--

No. I've skipped this class twice in the past two weeks, as well as several others. If I don't go, I'll feel like crap for the rest of the day. I push off my bike and race off onto the sidewalk, wincing as the increased speed amplifies the already biting wind.

I move through the day in a haze, speaking as little as possible and rushing back to the sanctuary of my dorm as soon as I can. I've checked my phone 15 times since I left the dorm, hoping desperately that one of my friends will text me, pull me away from this place that feels so foreign and whisk me back to thoughts of home. For the 16th time, I slide my phone out of my pocket. No notifications.

It's been two months since I watched my mother's black Acura fade into the distance. Nearly 60 days since I hugged my family goodbye and turned to face college with cautious optimism.

As those days ticked by, that optimism has faltered. In its place, desperation and resignation take turns suffocating me.

Why can't I talk to people? Why is it so hard to make friends?

It's their fault. No one here is as good as the people back home. They're all weird and shallow, and it's their fault for not wanting to be friends with me.

No, no, it isn't. It's me. I'm awkward and overly formal. I speak like a 50-year-old man and I have no idea how to connect with anyone. I'll never be able to fit in here. It's all my fault.

Day after day, thoughts like these muddle my mind. I know I'm making it harder for myself. I know that if I'd just chill out a little and not try to rush friendships, things would come more easily. But that doesn't stop my mind from conjuring clouds of non-stop negativity.

I spend my days hiding behind a false smile in classes where I speak to no one. I try my hardest to look cool, calm and collected. Even though I'm sitting alone, it's obviously because I want to. Look at how confident I look.

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The nights are harder. Huddled in the darkness, the smile abandons me. Clenching my pillow against my chest, I curl tightly into a ball, swaddled in my sheets. Tears stream down my face, and I stifle a sob so as not to wake my roommate. Homesickness wraps itself around me.

Daylight stings my eyes as I drift through the streets of Oxford. Beaten and battered from days of unease and discomfort, I switch on autopilot, settling into a hazy, vapid routine of talking to as few people as possible until I can rush back to my dorm and take shelter from the overwhelming world around me. =

Day after day, I wake up, and for the briefest of moments, I have no idea where I am. In the instant after opening my eyes, I feel like a child at summer camp: In an unfamiliar place surrounded by people I don't know. Only, unlike a camper, I won't be returning home at the end of the week. This is my home now, and that thought hurts.

These were my first few months at Miami University.

But as the days ticked by slowly, new routines slowly emerged from the unfamiliarity.

Gritting my teeth and powering through the supreme awkwardness of new social interactions, I forged friendships. Although they were new and unstable and unfamiliar, they were there.

Weekly Wednesday movie nights became something that I looked forward to. Cozy, quiet and comfortable, the event, hosted by a few people in my dorm, drew me closer and closer to the people who would become good friends. The weekly event served as a lighthouse, cutting through the gloom of my days and guiding me towards shore.

Through repeated dinners, get-togethers and lots of movie nights, acquaintances morphed into friends. Where there was once only stunted, ice-breaker dialogue, inside jokes and personal connections began to grow.

I also began to find places where I felt comfortable -- study nooks, coffee shops and club meeting rooms. Random rooms and obscure areas changed, little-by-little, into relaxing locales.

While maybe not as familiar as my hometown, Miami was beginning to grow on me.


Damn, I really should have brought my scarf.

It's October again, nearly 365 days since my rush to make it to class on that chilly morning of freshman year. Once more, the brisk fall breeze urges me to huddle deeper in the too-light jacket I threw on when running out the door.

Although I'm headed to class again, this time I'm not walking alone.

On the way down into the lobby of Hillcrest Hall, I bumped into my friend Theo. I'd left my backpack in the lobby to go and grab the woefully thin jacket, and when I came back they were there, waiting for me.

"I saw your dorky backpack and figured I'd wait and walk with you," Theo said, nudging my multi-colored bag with their toe.

As I reached my class, I strode into a room full of people I knew, faces I'd seen many times before. Classmates called to me, welcoming me into the room.

Afterward, while cutting across campus to my favorite study spot in the wings of Armstrong, I ran into three acquaintances at three different points on my walk, striking up friendly conversation with each before whistling my way back towards the student center.

It's hard to believe this is the same place I nervously navigated only a year ago. Sitting in Cafe Lux, gratefully sipping a chai tea latte, I find myself smiling, just as I did so many times during my first months on campus. But this time, the grin on my face isn't forced. And behind the grin, my thoughts aren't numbingly negative. I'm happy to be here. Gradually, Miami is becoming my new home.

Even the air feels different. As abstract and cliche as that sounds, whenever I step outside, I can actually feel the difference. As a first-year student, the air was bitter. Another facet of a foreign and inhospitable world, it stung my lungs. Just being here, just breathing, hurt.

But now, even on bad days, the air is clear. Surrounded by familiar folks and habits, I can breathe easy.

These things seem small, entirely ordinary. But they represent a monumental shift in atmosphere, indicators of the difference between this year and last.

Physically, nothing has changed. The red-brick buildings stand in the same spots they did a year ago. The bars and restaurants of Uptown continue their business as usual. Classrooms fill and empty with swells of students, rushing in and out like the tide, just as they did when I was new to campus.

But change has occurred.

The roads and fields that once felt so alien now fill my head with memories, of nights spent roaming the darkened campus with friends and walks across the soccer pitch, humming along to the familiar, slightly out-oftune songs from the bell tower.

Time has done its work. As the hands of the clock whirled around and around, they blew away the lingering feelings of loneliness and doubt. Through routine and repetition, a place that once instilled only negative emotions has become a place that I can call my home.

My experience certainly isn't universal. I'm sure that some people settle into college life with ease, while others are hurting even more than I was.

But to every Miamian who is struggling to stay afloat in a sea of unfamiliarity, I say this: No matter how cold and painful those chilly mornings seem, with time, patience and persistence, the weather is bound to change for the better.