Temporary Family

by Kelly Grebeck

Walking up the stairs, I hear many loud voices. I reach the top of the steps and see a large gathering of people in the kitchen through the two sets of glass doors. I walk through the first door, but, instead of going through the second, I turn left and open the door that leads to my room across the hall from the kitchen. I place my things on my bed and pace the floor.

If you don’t do this now, I think, you won’t do it at all. Go in there. You can handle it. I take a deep breath and step into the hallway. Reaching for the handle on the kitchen door, I notice how much my hand is shaking. My heart feels like it’s about to beat out of my chest.

I walk into the kitchen. Everyone turns and looks at me. I smile sheepishly and greet them with a quiet hello; most return to their prior conversations.

“Kelly, right?” I turn to see one vaguely familiar face. The girl I had met early this afternoon whose name I had already forgotten stands behind me.

“Yeah. Sorry, I’m horrible with names. What’s yours again?” She smiles.

“Beatriz.” She turns to the rest of the room. “Guys, this is Kelly. She’s American.”

When the people in the kitchen hear this, I become the center of their attention – something I do not like very much. They ask me so many questions about where I am from, and the amount of times I have to tell people the difference between Pennsylvania and Philadelphia is astonishing.

“Last year a guy who lived here was either from Pennsylvania or Philadelphia,” says Joe, a second year student living in my hall.

I reply with a chuckle, “He was probably from both. Philadelphia is a city in Pennsylvania.” Joe makes a face of feigned embarrassment of his lack of knowledge and others soon chime in that they thought Philadelphia was its own state.

I receive a few more questions about America, but, to my relief, the topic soon changes, which allows me to settle into the background. I add my opinion when I feel like it, instead of having all eyes on me. The night continues with talking, laughing, and drinking. We stay in the kitchen for a few hours before wandering around campus, checking out the two bars run by the university and meeting even more people.   

+

This is what happened the first night I was at the University of Sussex. I had already been in England for a few days at that point, but I was only with other Americans for the IFSA-Butler orientation in London. When we all went to our respective universities, I was with six others going to Sussex, but once we got to our rooms, we went our own ways.

After checking in, getting my keys, and finding my room, I had a bit of a nervous breakdown. It was mild, but still. I think all the nerves I should have felt but hadn’t felt until then hit me right then. I wondered why on Earth I ever thought I could handle this. I called my mom for the first time and had her calm me down. She always knows how to calm me down.

My room was quite separated from my hall mates. I didn’t know anyone living near me and I didn’t really see anyone in the hall. I didn’t know where anything was. I wandered back and forth between my room and the kitchen across the hall, hoping I would meet someone, but fearing it at the same time. I didn’t know what to do. I wandered the campus like a lost puppy.

+

Later that night in the kitchen, I met most of my hall mates, plus some people from other buildings and flats. I was very anxious that I were to share that kitchen with ten other people. I wanted something smaller, maybe five or six people. Eleven seemed to be too many.

As it turned out, I could not be happier with my living arrangement. It was that first night that really got the ball rolling. Had I not gone into the kitchen that night, I don’t think I would have bonded so well and so easily with everyone in my hall. In that first night, we all met each other for the first time. If I had waited, I would have felt a bit left out.

These people turned the place where I was living for three months into another home away from home for me. It didn’t feel like dorm-style living; it felt warm, welcoming, and wonderful. We became a family of sorts. We adopted people from other halls who did not have quite the same relationship with their hall-mates. We bonded and that bond was strong. My entire experience would have been vastly different if I didn’t find this temporary family.

Being one of the oldest in the hall, I became a sort of mother figure at times – a role I completely embraced. I loved that they would turn to me for advice or care. This started early, on that first night. When one of my hall mates drank a little more than he could handle, I was the one who took charge of taking care of him. I made sure he made it safely back to the hall and I helped sober him up before sending him to bed. This motherly attitude continued throughout my time living with them.

My hall mates looked to me for guidance at times. I helped them with the most insignificant of things like how to cook rice to more meaningful problems like how to handle life away from their parents. When they were struggling with being away from home, I was able to help them. I had already spent two years away at school and I was, at that time, further away from home than they could even imagine. They couldn’t understand how I didn’t feel homesick so far from home, but they were the reason I didn’t miss home too much. Because of them, I felt like I was home.

 

Read an interview with Kelly here.

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