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Reflections on My Little Home in the Woods: Alpha Phi

By Julia O'Sullivan '20

For me, arriving at Dartmouth was not exactly a seamless transition. My first year of college was marked by homesickness for my life in Oakland, California. I had moved 3,000 miles across the country from a diverse, bustling cultural hub to a tiny college town in New Hampshire. Throughout that year, I wondered if I really belonged at Dartmouth. At home, I had a close circle of friends who had grown up with each other. During my freshman year, I had a hard time believing I would be able to find anything close to that comfort zone at Dartmouth. I was starting to think it would have been easier to stay in California and always feel comfortable in every room I walked into, around the surfers and skaters and kids who use the “hella” adjective.

However, when the rush process began during the fall of my sophomore year, I was reminded why I had taken the leap of faith to move across the country for college in the first place. I wanted to grow by challenging myself and meeting people who expanded my view of the world. But I did want to keep some pieces of home: I always, always wanted to remain true to myself. I wanted to do Dartmouth my way. And as the rounds of rush continued, I found myself drawn back to APhi time and time again because I was talking to women who seemed focused on who I was and what I added to the conversation. I was never made to feel as though I had to “fit” their predetermined mold.

During my sophomore summer, one of my best friends Selena led an activity in which we sat around in a circle while she made statements that ranged from relatable and general to personal and specific. If they applied to us, we could share our story. I knew then that APhi had brought me to some of the coolest girls I have ever met from all over the world and all corners of campus. And we met in a space where each of us was entirely celebrated and never pressured to be anyone else.

It’s because of this environment that I always felt comfortable being me. I was on the Exec Board; I was Social Chair; I participated in “Women of APhi,” telling stories about my family and background to rooms full of people. At APhi, I got to stand up on a table in front of the whole house with one of my best friends Annie, as we made fools of ourselves, and no one ever got sick of us. It was such a relief to have a judgement-free community of women on campus. In fact, it has served as a pillar of my college experience.

It would be easy to look at my time at Dartmouth in the wake of COVID-19 and all of its repercussions and bemoan the fact that it was cut short. For me, the last few months have been about mourning this loss and the loss of the world as I knew it, as many of us are thrust into terrifying and unfamiliar territory. But I have been able to take comfort in the community I found at Dartmouth: the Dartmouth we built together, and the people we became while doing it. I can take solace in the memories that we made in our white house with the red door on the corner of East Wheelock and North Park: The night Shae, Kyra, and Tris had a competition to see who could launch whip cream into their mouths in the living room–they all failed; When I met my wonderful little, Anita, during rush and we talked about her pet chameleon, Augustine; Cheering Kate on from the bleachers of her lacrosse games; When Annie asked me to join her off-campus house over Sophomore Summer after knowing me for 10 minutes, and the rest was history. Somewhere along the way, I found home in the place I least expected.

The truth is I will never get the “one last times” I envisioned. Phrosé, Pudding, Risky Business, Meetings, Semi, Phormal. I might not even get senior week—the last time for us to celebrate our APhi class in our favorite place. We may have been gearing up for our best term yet, but no one can say we didn’t have some other best terms along the way. In the midst of it all, I know that I will always look around and see the smiling faces of these girls–like it’s the first sunny day of spring and we’re all sitting out on the Green for the first time in forever, or it’s the first night of the term and we can barely hear over all of the excited chatting in the living room. The people I call home in the place I have come to feel most like myself. My little home in the woods.

Despite this sadness, however, I can rest assured that at the end of my time at Dartmouth, I found myself able to say something I never thought possible: I felt comfortable in every room I walked into on campus. APhi gave me surfers and skaters, but it also gave me skiers and D1 athletes too—and instead of “hella” they say “wicked.” And though my time was cut short, I am so grateful to have another place to feel homesick for. These friends, these memories, I get to keep. No matter where I go from here, I will always feel honored to have been a part of such an incredible group of women.

It will never be lost on me that I have to miss out on the last time we all get to share this space in one place together. I will always grieve that loss. But I will have what we made with what we did get forever. And I will know, due to unfair and unfortunate circumstances, we were forced to realize exactly what we had to lose and just how special it all really was.

Thank you, Alpha Phi. I couldn’t have done it without you.

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