Ask a Friend: Back to School Edition
Welcome to the first installment of Ask a Friend, in which four of my fellow Obies share their thoughts on the ups and downs of college life. In less than three weeks, we'll be back at Oberlin, so the theme of these questions is BACK TO SCHOOL!
And now, some introductions:
Gabi is going to be my roommate this year! And I am so excited!! We met in a 9am class first semester and hit it off. One time we watched like half an hour of Grease Live and it was a good time, so that's saying something! A prospective English major, Gabi is from just outside of Boston. At Oberlin, she has been involved in the theater and acapella communities, is a member of Primitive Streak (one of Oberlin's longform improv troupes), and has written for campus publications.
Liam can make me laugh harder than almost anyone else I know! We've spent many late nights in the hall lounge, obsessing over the intricacies of pop culture. Hailing from Cape Cod, Liam is interested in studying Anthropology or Environmental Studies. Last year, he was a member of Oberlin's swim team! He works at the Office of Environmental Sustainability and hopes to become more involved in campus publications.
Hanne is my incredible friend from San Francisco! We met in our first-year seminar and quickly became close through our mutual love of slam poetry! Last semester, we lived on the same hall and spent many hours eating overpriced DeCafé snacks together. At Oberlin, Hanne's a prospective Comparative American Studies major (like me!) and a member of OSLAM. She plays the trombone and was a double-degree student during her first semester. Hanne also works at the Cat in the Cream and as an HIV Peer Tester.
Joey is a wonderful guy from Milwaukee! And he's also my boyfriend!! We met on the second day of orientation and have been pretty much inseparable since then. He's a prospective Economics or Comparative American Studies major, a tour guide, and a member of Primitive Streak. Joey also performs in theater productions and volunteers with Oberlin Drama at Grafton.
Gabi: A Brita filter (Ohio water is an adjustment), a mattress pad, a pillow that supported my back against the rock-like headboard on my bed, and organizers for makeup and jewelry.
Liam: An everywhere blanket: You'll break it out for a movie night. It'll be by your side as you camp out with homework in the lounge. And it will definitely be useful for a picnic in Tappan. An astrology book: Listen, some days you're going to need to look up some sign compatibility. Also, great convo starter. College addresses of friends outside of Oberlin: Send some inside jokes back and forth or a low-budget homemade postcard! Getting unexpected mail from the OG friends will 100% make you remember that pesky mailbox combination. A mattress topper: I'm absolutely in a relationship with my mattress topper. It makes me a much friendlier, gentler person and I'd be lost without it.
Hanne: Long underwear!!! I wore beautiful purple thermal leggings under my jeans for a solid 3 months there. They kept me warm and snug and the color kept me happy. I also made a lot of friends through giving haircuts, so if that's something you're interested in, make sure to bring some clippers! Buzzcuts are a crucial part of freshman year.
Joey: Weirdly, storage space! All of the little shelves and pencil cups and Tupperware and a little clip-on bag that my mom bought for me last-minute. I'm not super organized, but it was really helpful to have places to put things. Plus, if you bring your own Tupperware, it becomes 1000% easier to steal food from Stevie. Another must-have is something that is comforting and maybe reminds you of home but is also practical in some way. For me it was my pillow with the skyline of Milwaukee on it. It's awesome to pack your pictures and knick-knacks from home to put up in your room, and you need your pens and pencils and binders too, but for late nights doing homework or working on a project in the commons, it's really nice to have your favorite comfy sweatshirt or coffee mug (for hot chocolate - I do not drink coffee) to keep you warm and happy while you're not in your room.
2) What's something that scared you about college when you first started?
Gabi: I was really nervous that people wouldn't find me interesting, which I quickly realized was everyone's fear. I think first-years deal with anxiety about gelling with a community at Oberlin in different ways at the beginning and ultimately come to see that everyone is trying to find their space on campus. It gets easier and everyone will chill out!
Liam: I was terrified that no one would understand my humor in college. Most of the jokes I would tell were stories about home and they would have no relevance in northeast Ohio. For me, a few wacky dance moves and impressions were enough to win over the Obies. But honestly, reminiscing about orientation fears is enough laughs to last you through the first semester.
Hanne: I was worried that I wouldn't be articulate enough to speak in academic discussions. I had this idea that some of my classes would be like that scene in Legally Blonde, where the law professor is calling on students randomly and they are all on the edges of their seats all class - luckily that's not how it works at Oberlin! It was definitely intimidating at first, especially when I got into a couple of higher-level classes where I was one of few freshmen. I've learned 1) to trust my voice, no matter how stilted it comes out, and 2) it's okay to make jokes in class! In my experience, speaking colloquially (as long as it's relevant) can make information a lot more accessible and engaging. The things you have to say are important no matter how you end up expressing them! I think that's important to keep in mind, especially considering my intersections of being a femme and coming from a working-class/public education background, two qualities that are often silenced in academia.
Joey: Bathrooms! I never had to share a shower with my peers for more than a day after a sleepover or something before (I know some people shower after gym class but that wasn't a thing at my school). Turns out it really wasn't a big deal and you get used to it super quick. Bring flip flops and a shower caddy, it's honestly fine.
3) What was the best risk that you took this year? How did it turn out?
Gabi: Going into college, I knew that I would regret not trying out for an improv group, even though I knew that joining one would be a huge commitment. I tried out for two groups and I am now a member of Primitive Streak, which provided me with a community and an artistic outlet from the start and has been the best thing about my Oberlin experience so far.
Liam: This year I forced myself to stop second-guessing my own ideas. I was always the one who bounced off other people's suggestions in class or with friends, but was afraid to throw something brand-new out there myself. Even though some of my ideas have gone awry (like making pigs-in-a-blanket for a group of vegans or starting an unorganized flash mob through the halls of Kahn), there's always a way to laugh about it later on.
Hanne: I spoke as a student representative on a faculty panel about disability access at Oberlin! It was nerve-wracking arguing with tenured faculty about better ways to grade and about things that need changing in Oberlin's classrooms, but it was really powerful to take the things that I learned in my freshman seminar and from student workshops and use them in real life. It turned out well for me, and standing up for myself felt really good.
Joey: Being myself. Which sounds super weird and cheesy and I don't like saying it, but I'm a pretty loud personality and in the first couple weeks of school I could very easily have toned myself down or only presented certain aspects of myself to try to make friends. Instead I decided to let my freak flag fly (a song from Shrek the Musical) and just be me. And I made a number of good friends - better friends than they would be if they only knew part of me. Honestly, I'm not that weird, like it wasn't that big of a deal, but still it felt good to be outgoing and not pretend to be anything I wasn't during orientation.
4) Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself a year ago?
Gabi: If I could give my first-year self advice, it would absolutely be that everything you feel during your first year of college is valid. Every single first-year everywhere feels pressure to live up to the "best four years" expectation that comes with going to college, and I doubt that any feel that they're able to reach the euphoria that they've been told they're supposed to achieve once they get to school. College is as amazing as it is grueling - no matter what you do, uprooting yourself from the only life you've known and learning how to be independent is going to be hard. Know that it is okay to feel ecstatic and terrified about this independence at the same time, and know that others feel the same.
Liam: Don't feel like you have to change yourself to fit into the Oberlin groove. There's going to be a lot of washed denim outfits and people who tell you about obscure musicians or authors. But if you love shopping at Gap and belting out Maroon 5? Do. Not. Fret. You were accepted to Oberlin for your own quirks and they're here to stay. My heart still pounds at the sight of warm toaster strudels and I love to listen to the Ratatouille soundtrack on repeat. That's not going to change any time soon. If people don't want to be friends with you because you don't align with their aesthetic, they really aren't worth your time.
Hanne: Listen to your body. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Trust your gut. It's okay not to go to Big Blue*. It's okay to need downtime. It's okay to leave the Conservatory. Did you know more than half of double-degree students drop one major by graduation? You're not weird or wrong or worthless for leaving behind the things that aren't helping you grow. Go to the Arb more. Be outside as much as you can while it's still warm and the breeze feels nice. There is nothing better than laying in the grass and watching the clouds pass. Also, Mudd isn't nearly as scary as you think. Go to the big-kid library once in a while!
Joey: Be purposeful in making time for family and friends. I went to a small high school where all of my friends were in the same classes and activities as me, so I saw them and hung out with them every day. I felt bad that this year I wasn't seeing very much of my friends, but it was only because I became friends with people who had different interests than me, which was awesome! But it meant we didn't see each other in class every day. It took some getting used to have to make plans and make sure I was seeing my friends instead of getting swept up by school work. Same with family - I had to make sure I was calling my parents regularly because I took for granted that I normally saw them every day!
5) What are you looking forward to about going back to school?
Gabi: I'm super looking forward to taking some healthy risks this fall, like writing more for campus publications and hopefully performing original music! I'm also excited to know the ropes a bit more than I did as a first-year.
Liam: The conversations I've had at school are so unique to what I discuss with friends at home and I can't wait to be back in a bubble of such creative and enthusiastic people. Now that we've completed a year of college and have been home for the summer, I'm curious to hear how these types of Obie discussions fared in "the real world."
Hanne: NEW GINKO KITTENS! And I'm excited to join a co-op, to become a super efficient bread-baker, I'm excited to declare a major, I'm excited to fail, to try ceramics, to give up the things that don't make me happy... Basically, I want to cultivate myself to be as badass and wise and kind as I want to be. Oh, and SexCo**. Can't wait for SexCo.
Joey: Friends! I miss everyone!
6) What's something you're excited about for this year?
Gabi: I'm really excited for all the bands that will be coming through Oberlin!
Liam: I'm really excited to learn how to cook this year. I have a few friends eating in a bunch of different co-ops so I'm eager to learn all of their tips and creations! And because Oberlin is so culturally diverse, I'm hoping to cook a few authentic cultural meals with international students at school.
Hanne: Aja Monet is coming, one of my favorite poets! I can't wait for all the incredible artists lined up to come to school this year. It makes me shimmy just to think about!
Joey: Meeting new members of Primitive Streak and other people who will be new to me in classes and activities. I'm excited to meet incoming first-years, and also get to know people who have been in my periphery! Can't wait for all the people I can get to know and continue to know better!
All I can say is that I'm really excited to see these four again, and all my other amazing friends. They're people I always dreamed of meeting, and they make Oberlin feel like home.
*Last year, Big Blue was the closest thing Oberlin had to a frat house.