A year ago, I wandered campus like a lost soul, shepherded this way or that by my little green book.1 Every stranger was a potential friend, and we asked each other all the First Questions - you know the ones: what's your name? your hometown? your dorm?
I got to know the campus and my classes and my hallmates, and fell head over heels in love.
Coming back to Oberlin felt almost like leaving. The campus I returned to that first Monday night was eerily empty of life. Harkness felt surreal - no music snaking through windows onto the Bowl, no conversation, no vagabonds on the porch. But there were friends, and friends-to-be: Hannah, Mary-Claire, and my roommate Hillary. I was unpacking my second box when Hillary came in, saying "There's a deer in the AJLC orchard!"
I ran to the Harkness porch with her, and was rewarded with a long look at the young deer, silently browsing the grass amidst the trees. Hannah came outside then with a box of Orientation packets. I shushed her, pointing, before we enveloped each other in a vehement hug. We spoke in whispers. It seemed like an omen: this will be a very good year.
After the deer drifted away, blown by some unseen wind, we walked through the empty lounge up to our balcony room. The campus waited, breathless, for the first-years. But we were busy chatting about home.
I spent the next day tabling for ECO, the Ecumenical Christians of Oberlin, pausing for a quick burrito break with my mother. The week after that was a collage of postering, meeting, greeting and planning. My friend Anita and I papered campus with ECO flyers. A keen observer could trace our path around campus, starting with Dascomb, where every single landing has a flyer, and ending at Barrows, where we put a couple in the lounge.
During meals, I met a few first-years - and, guess what, having been here a year doesn't confer the ability to psychically discern the name, hometown, interests and experiences of the people sitting next to you at lunch. But this time, I enjoyed the chats immensely. I wasn't in a hurry to make friends. Instead, I was in it for the conversation, and conversations abounded.
As well as meeting the first-years, I met the people who were here to meet the first-years. The RAs had been on campus for what must seem like months, and many student organizations have a representative or two to plan, flyer and be social. In a way, it was like orientation all over again - this time, knowing what I wanted to get involved in, and maybe even who could tell me about it. I promised to go to OCF and evening meditation. Time seems elastic, during orientation. I felt like a new student writing out my name on interest lists thinking I would have whole days in which to frolic and go to meetings.
The illusion of brand-new-ness broke at ECO's opening pizza panel, where several ECO members spoke about what it was like to be Christian at Oberlin and what ECO is and does. Despite our eventually lackluster flyering, there were plenty of people at ECO's opening pizza panel -- enough so that we had to bring in chairs. I felt a little like an imposter sitting there and answering questions, but questions they had, and we answered them - for ourselves, which is all we ever claim to be able to do.2
The first weekend has been reduced, in my memory, to a montage of meetings and activities. I met new friends for coffee and old friends in the Bowl. During my first orientation, I had been envious of the happy shouts and outbreaks of hugging as returning Obies welcomed each other home. Now it seemed like everyone I'd known was a comrade in arms, and I was overjoyed to see them after so long. Obies tend to do pretty awesome things over the summer, and I wanted to hear about them all. What will it be like, leaving campus as a senior, knowing fall will find me somewhere else?
The incandescence of orientation sustained me through add-drop period, in which I ironed out a schedule limited by the size of the biology field work van. (I'm not kidding. Have you ever wondered why the best ecology classes are limited to exactly fourteen people? That's how many students the van can fit.) Registering for classes at Oberlin is like eating dinner during OSCA interim. There's almost enough for everyone, and if you get there on time and know what you want, you will eat well. If you come a little late, you surely won't starve, but you might have puffed spelt for dinner.
But keep in mind that puffed spelt is delicious, and you'll be fine. By Thursday, three days into Add-Drop, I was registered for intro to biology, intro to neurology, and accelerated chemistry. They are all difficult classes; two also have labs; so instead of a fourth course, I'm taking two ExCos (and co-teaching one). I was all set to enjoy my spelt and forget the lack of ecology. I mean, I'm teaching a class on plants. How much ecology does one person really need to be happy?
Well, as much as possible, as it turns out, because when I was unexpectedly offered a spot in Plant Ecology during lab3 on Friday, I dropped Neuro without a second thought. My schedule now consists of seven classes:
Biology 100. MWF 9 AM
Widely considered a weed-out class, this course does not, sadly, spend a whole lot of time on weeds. It's mostly microbiology, whereas 102, which gave me my intended major, is almost entirely macrobiology. I am so glad I took them backwards. If you are interested in living things and want to take biology, I recommend 102 first. It's fun and intuitive and a good jumping-off point if you decide to take the plunge and be a major.
However, for the serious enthusiast, Bio 100 is a revelation. We dove into digestion and cellular nutrition, which sounds boring but is actually phenomenally complex. Between Bio 100 and Chem 103, I've already spent an inordinate amount of time this semester looking with awe at my own hands.
Biology 101. T 1:30-4:30 PM
This lab is designed to be taken concurrently with Bio 100, but they are emphatically separate courses, and if you love lecture or lab or vice versa, it's not unheard of to take just one. I would recommend taking them together if you are even considering a bio major. During our first lab, we got to play with enzymes on mysterious substrates. Yum!
Plant Ecology. MWF 10 AM; F 1:30-4:30 PM
Unlike Bio 100, this class spends quite a lot of time on weeds, and on plants of all stripes and photosynthesis types. For the first lab, the class studied pollination and flower production in jewelweed populations; for the second, we're going on a canoe trip! I was issued a write-wet pen and a waterproof notebook. I am so excited. I have even been enjoying the textbook reading. What's with that?
Chemistry 103. MWF 11 AM; M 1:30-4:30 PM
This class is the buy-one-get-one version of Chem 101 and 102. It assumes a pretty good prior knowledge of chemistry -- maybe a bit more than taking AP Chem, not paying attention or doing any work, and then not taking the AP test at the end of the year. (That's me, not you, dear reader.) So most of the material is strangely familiar. It's like having dreams explained back to me. It's intimidating but wonderful, and even at this level of chemistry and biology, I can catch glimpses of the beautiful bridges that link the movements of molecules with those of organisms, ecosystems, biospheres.
Lab and lecture are the same course, and I'm looking forward to next Monday. More on lab if you're curious once I've done more than one.
Ecology, Meditation and Mindfulness
This ExCo is taught by Corey Patrick-Harkins and meets tomorrow at 7:15. AM. It will be worth it. We're reading from a book called A Place on the Glacial Till, all about the natural history of Oberlin, but it's more than just readings and discussion. The name says it all, really, and I can't wait until tomorrow morning's meeting. Even if it rains on us.
A Practicum in Joy
This ExCo is mostly discussion-based, I believe; the interest meeting was on Tuesday and the class looks pretty great. Maybe I'll make cookies for the next ExCo meeting. Baking: the easiest, surest way to spread happiness fast. It's ephemeral happiness, to be sure, but what isn't?
Mine might be. But I am looking forward with glee to this semester, and I hope, newly arrived Obies and others, that you are excited about the next few months as I am. Are you happy about your classes? Or curious about other classes in the bio department? Did you overcommit during your first week? There's a place to tell us about all that, following the footnotes ...
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The Orientation Packet, which lists all the required, recommended and student events, plus a handy map of campus and the city.
I tried to make that an I statement, ECO, but it didn't work out.
Actually, the email was sent at 12:30, plenty of time to check it and go to lab, but I was at work at the time.