I stuffed some shirts and a pair of jeans into my duffel bag. Are they gonna like me? I wondered. I was headed to an overnight visit at Grace University. Grace was one of my top choices, so I'd been looking forward to a chance to check out the school and spend a night on campus.
But as I tossed my toothbrush into my bag, I started to have some second thoughts. I'd had an earlier college visit at another school where I stayed in the dorm overnight. No one was very friendly to me there, so it was a pretty bad experience.
Now my stomach was churning. What was I thinking when I agreed to make another overnight visit? These are college students, I thought. They're so much older, and they seem like they have it all together. Should I even go?
My mom yelled up the stairs. "Ruben! If you don't leave soon, you're going to be late for your visit!"
I zipped up the duffel and threw it over my shoulder. Well, I guess I better get going and get this over with.
When I got to campus, I was paired up with Mark,* the guy I'd stay overnight with. We didn't talk much at first. But after I went to dinner and attended some fun activities on campus, I hung out with Mark and some guys on his floor. It was pretty cool. We started talking and they asked me where I was from and what kind of stuff I was involved in at my high school. The guys were all pretty laid back. I soon realized I could actually be myself around them.
It started getting late and some of the other guys said they had to go to bed, but Mark asked me if I wanted to play some video games before calling it a night. I was totally up for it.
It felt like a few minutes later when Mark looked at his watch.
"Hey man, it's getting late. We should probably get to bed soon."
I looked at the clock on the wall.
"Whoa! I didn't realize it was almost four in the morning!"
I had to be at some event in four hours.
"Yeah, I've got class early. But before we go to sleep," Mark said as he pulled out an air mattress and set it up for me in the middle of the floor, "I wanted to know if you had any questions about college."
"I guessI mean, what's it like?"
"Kind of like this. Lots of free time but lots of homework, too. Lots of opportunities to grow. You just have to be yourself and really try to get to know other people and care about them. I mean, especially since we're all Christians, you know?"
There was a brief silence. Then Mark spoke up. "Hey, could I pray for you before we go to sleep? I probably won't see you much tomorrow since I have an early class."
I was really surprised. I mean, I was only a high school senior, some guy he might never see again, but he wanted to pray for me.
"That would be really cool, man."
Mark prayed that I would figure out where to go to college and that God would help me live faithfully for him. It really meant a lot that Mark cared enough to pray for me, even though he didn't know me that well.
I was really tired the next morning, but I was awake enough to still enjoy the day. Along with the classes being really cool, the small campus made it easy to get where I needed to go and find what I needed to find. But what really stuck out to me was being able to connect so well with the guys I'd met the night before.
That overnight stay was one of the main reasons I ended up at Grace. In fact, I feel God really used that visit to open my eyes to the college that was the best fit for me. And I never would have known that so clearly if I'd decided to stay home.
Ruben is a junior majoring in communications at Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska.