Surviving Oberlin

A freshman's look back at her first Oberlin semester

If opportunity was a housewares salesman, I would've bought every vacuum cleaner and squeegee mop that showed up at my dorm-room door during my first semester at Oberlin. I was bombarded with so many possibilities for study and action that at first I didn't know what to do with myself.

The college experience, I've decided, can be as healthy and exciting or as dull and uninspiring as I make it, depending on the opportunities I accept or pass up. Chances to expand my perceptions of who I am and where I belong in the world arise each day. The first I encountered at Oberlin was, obviously, the opportunity to take advantage of an amazing liberal arts curriculum. From exploring the complex relationship between humans and the living biosphere in my environmental-studies class to developing a closer relationship with my feet in modern dance, my mind has been pulled and molded and pulled again in all directions.

Getting to know the place where I live is important to me, and doing so means getting off Oberlin the campus and into Oberlin the town. I was lucky to participate in a community-service project-called Day of Awareness-during my first week here. Along with several other students, I helped to spread manure and topsoil for a garden at a local elementary school. I got the chance to meet people from the College and the town whose concerns were similar to mine. Since then, a community-wide interest in creating and maintaining public gardens has developed, and I took the opportunity to attend the first open meeting to get the project rolling.

The arts offer another way to fully experience Oberlin. The College's staggering number and variety of performances and exhibits, open to all, are available to choose from. And when I attended the Oberlin High School drama club's performance of The Foreigner, I learned that the arts aren't just confined to campus. Keeping up with classes and homework can get stressful, but meeting adults and students that weren't from my College community refreshed me and helped me keep reality in perspective.

On-campus clubs and activities allow me to express my interests, and to develop close friendships. Singing and dancing at Shabbat services, playing in pick-up Ultimate Frisbee games, and participating on committees dedicated to resource-use reduction on campus are only a few of the ways I've gotten involved and met people. And then, there's just something about the bond created between two people picking up cigarette butts around campus or mopping a co-op kitchen after midnight that can't be cultivated any other way.

Drama, dancing, intramural sports, political and social groups, community service, environmental organizations, music, friendships, schoolwork . . . all these and more are here for every student to enjoy, and I partook of many during my first semester. In my enthusiasm, though, I made a typical first-year blunder; I overextended myself.

I've come to realize that I can't do everything at once. Even though I find my outside activities appealing and worthwhile, I have to make time for schoolwork. Balancing intellectual pursuits, relationships, and my myriad extracurricular interests is difficult, but it's all part of the opportunity to grow and learn on my own.

-by Audra Abt '01