Breaking out from the Dome
Kat Regala | Thursday, September 14, 2023
Towards the end of my freshman year, I found myself looking at the next semester with extra time in my schedule. As a type-A neurotic freak, I immediately started scouring for ways to fill it. I found myself on JOBboard, scrolling through listings. At the time, babysitting off-campus paid significantly more than the on-campus minimum wage. Throughout high school, I had worked as a babysitter and found it to be a well-paying job that was minimally taxing, offered a comfortable working environment and often afforded (thanks to children’s naps) paid free time. I decided to try it out, but this time, here in South Bend.
I spoke with an enthusiastic and kind mom, and we arranged for me to come meet her family and go from there. At the start of the spring semester, I strapped on my helmet and biked over to their house. As a student at Notre Dame, there was never a need for me to leave: food, housing, classes, recreation and friends were all contained within campus. This bike ride was one of the first times I saw where the people that made my life on campus possible and what comprised the community surrounding it lived.
I quickly fell in love with the three kids, their parents, the fluffy, white cat and the small warm house that was home to all of them. In the chaos of academic life and sleeping yards away from where I would get tested, babysitting once a week felt like returning to some type of normalcy. Instead of writing papers, making my way through the dining hall line or trying to understand my PLS books, I was coloring pages, making mac and cheese and reading nap-time stories. Landing among this family allowed me to see what normal life outside of Notre Dame was like.
This is not to say that actually getting out is by any means easy. I ambitiously staked my bets on making the three miles by bike. This move was a little bit terrifying considering my first attempt at biking in South Bend. I ventured to Dick’s Sporting Goods and quickly found myself on a busy street without a bike line or sidewalks. I pulled off to the side of the street for a pep-talk call with my dad, and he advised me to bike on the street and be careful. This strategy worked on the way there, but on the way back, my backpack was stocked full. Halfway through, it split open, scattering my things among incoming traffic and causing the road to be held up on both sides as I tried to gather my things.
Despite that whole affair and seeing the streets were not as busy as those to Dick’s, I proceeded with biking. This plan failed when powdery snow covered the street, a difficulty this Florida girl hadn’t foreseen. Even when it wasn’t snowing, I learned that during winter, bike locks can freeze, leading the dad of the kids I babysit to very generously drive over to campus with a thermos of hot water and teach me the basic ways of hacking winter I never had to think about before. The grandmother of the kids, hearing of my qualms, bought me a little canister of de-icer.
Despite my aspirations, I often ditched the bike altogether and relied on Uber. This led to me meeting and talking with all sorts of people that I would have never gotten the chance to meet in the realm of campus. I met people who worked in nearby manufacturing plants who had just finished their shift and were getting some drives in before going home to crash. I met someone who took up driving to help pay for the medical expenses of a loved one who had previously been the household’s sole earner. I met someone else who had just come to the United States after winning a slot in the immigration lottery. I also met many people who I didn’t talk to but shared time and space with.
As much as I love babysitting and getting to experience the community outside of Notre Dame, it’s not easy. Unless you’re splitting an Uber to go to one of South Bend’s fine establishments like Newf’s or Salsa’s, the people you know already have their center of gravity on campus. It’s time-consuming and, unless you’re taking the bus, walking or biking, it’s expensive. For students from around the world, there is little incentive to go beyond the bounds of Notre Dame.
Except, there is. Breaking the bubble is to be reminded that there is not one. Our lives on campus couldn’t exist as they do without the community that surrounds us and sometimes it takes stepping off campus to see that.
Kat Regala is a junior studying the Program of Liberal Studies with minors in Computing and Digital Technology and Science, Technology and Values. She originally hails from Naples, Florida, but loves traveling. When not reading or writing, you can find her drinking coffee, practicing yoga or binge-watching reality television.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.