I represent one of the myriad of freshmen, and students in general, from California, a demographic which my new friends from other states like to roll their eyes at (love you too!). The drive from my hometown of Folsom, a little east of Sacramento, to Portland was a grueling ten hours in my mom’s red Honda, which I had to stop driving soon after passing Medford because I got too excited looking out the window. “Look at the trees, they are almost blue!” I said. “Keep your eyes on the road,” my mom replied.
I moved in and took my horrible ID photo, making peace with the fact that my sweaty 18-year-old face will be painfully smiling at me for the next few years. Soon after the stimulation of being in a new environment wore off, the fear set in. I started wondering if I would ever feel like I belong here.
Slowly, over the past month, I have been acquainting myself with the places on campus I now think of as home: Watzek, the hiking trails and my friends’ dorms, where I spend most of my time sleeping or studying on the floor. Everything still has its growing pains. The smaller class sizes are still strange to me. Moodle is consistently annoying. There is something inherently taxing about living in the same space you study, and something tough about trying to relax when just one day ago somewhere across this small campus you cried about feeling stupid.
Everything is new. Even everyday matters still feel fresh to me. I have been downtown multiple times and I still do not know where anything is. My friends back home think it is the funniest and dumbest thing that we call Fields Dining Hall the Bon. Next to my art from last year, packed in boxes and carefully unpacked to sit on my wall, I place new memories: new drawings and clippings of Pioneer Log articles my friends and I have illustrated for and written.
I think the biggest difference I have felt is being surrounded by a community that I know deals with the same things I do, even though we come from vastly different places. Our worlds did not connect until a few weeks ago, but my friends and I know what it is like to be scared, and, as freshmen, that is how we constantly live.
I was used to golden hills of dried grass and country backroads waiting to be developed, to Folsom Lake, which I lived just down the street from my whole life. I was used to the dam which I passed to get to the other side of town, to the American River I plunged my feet into and said goodbye to just before I left. Consistently overcast days, even slight humidity, rain in September — these are phenomenon I am still getting used to.
I miss Folsom. I think everybody at some point gets so homesick they want to run away and walk the whole way back home until their feet fall apart. But to all the people back home who said I have to live in Portland at least once in my life: you were right. This place is not perfect, but it is where I need to be.