Oberlin Blogs

Being Back

February 9, 2023

Ben Smith ’24

I have very few photos from my first two years at Oberlin. Aside from the ones I’ve used on my blog here and a few others, my first two years in university… It's probably the period of my life in which I have the least photo documentation of my existence. Now that I've taken thousands of photos since being away from Oberlin, I've recognized this discrepency. 

A lot has changed in my life since the last time I was last walking around Tappan Square in May. As you may be familiar with, being abroad was an experience that created a lot of special moments for me, but there were some other personal events outside of this experience that occurred as well—good and bad. Because of this, coming back to Oberlin encompassed a lot of emotions for me. Amongst them were excitement and happiness; I missed my friends and looked forward to the luxury of walking into any practice room at any time of the day, but I also harbored some trepidation about being back. And honestly, for a while I could not place my finger on why I felt this way. Sure, being in a small town in Ohio doesn’t have quite the same allure as being in a major city like Seoul, but this apprehension towards being back felt a bit more significant than that. 

Being away gave me the opportunity to actually learn more about myself, my place in the world, and the life I want to make for myself. Not to say I didn’t have this same opportunity at Oberlin, but I recognize now that I didn’t make use of it in a balanced way. Reflecting on my first two years at Oberlin, my energy was spent worrying about classes, my musical development, homework, future opportunities, more homework, when I could get my next coffee, where I could get my next coffee, rehearsals, performances, recordings… I was trying to cram so much into my brain and pump out so many ideas that I never gave myself the space to just… relax, and maybe even take some photos of the beautiful things around me (because I am sure there were beautiful things, but I just couldn’t see them). 

The most fulfilling experiences from the past 8 months came when I was in the warmth of a community, oftentimes sharing music. Community can mean a lot of things. Ask five people to describe what one community in their life looks like, and you’ll end up with five totally different spreads of people and experiences that connect them. That’s a very beautiful part of being human. I am lucky to be part of a few lovely communities here at Oberlin, but until now I was often too stressed to be truly present in them. Hence, few photos. 

I’ve been asked a lot if it feels weird to be back. Of course it does! But I want this strangeness to be something I learn from. In a way, it’s like getting a second wind. I want to make the most of my time, take life less seriously, and continue being present. On another note, when I was coming into Oberlin as a first-year student, I envisioned my third-year self having this carefully curated list of graduate programs that I would apply to. I thought this list would have important information like prospective professors and application deadlines—y’know, the works. Well… surprise, surprise. Here I am in the second semester of my third year, and I have no such plans. I have some conceptions, some ideas, some ponderings… but the future is not the present, and I’d like to have a little more time to sit with myself in these current moments of my life. Besides, those graduate programs I may or may not apply to aren’t going anywhere. So in the meantime… might as well take some photos. 

Like this one :-) 

Black and white photo of myself smiling in Tappan Square wearing a scarf and university jacket doing a peace sign.
Photo credit: Sofía Jingxuan Chen
(P.S. thank you Sofía! you're wonderful <3)

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