Comparing Mountains and Molehills
Being abroad in the southern hemisphere last year meant that I skipped the season of fall entirely. My experiences abroad (which you can read about in my other blog entries) more than made up for the loss of such a beautiful season, but it has been nice to walk through the red and gold leaves of Tappan Square again, sipping a warm beverage from my favorite coffeeshop in town. We are currently in the midst of our fall break at Oberlin, a weeklong respite from classes that marks about the halfway point of the semester. The break couldn't have come at a better time for me. In an effort to save myself from the almost-certain senioritis that I anticipate will strike in the spring semester, I front-loaded the first part of my senior year with the remaining degree requirements that I had to complete. I am taking two upper-level seminar courses for each of my majors (Latin American Studies and Politics), as well as an English class about sport, and a private reading for my honors thesis research. All this, in addition to the track pre-season and applying for a fellowship, made the start of the year very hectic. In early September I found myself already restless from the rut of classes, homework, work, and practice that I was getting into, and beginning to feel like my academic pursuits were turning into mere items on my to-do list. I decided that I needed a change in scenery to ensure that I would be truly "on vacation" for the break, and to force me to change things up in my schedule. One of my best friends from the study abroad program I attended in Chile goes to school at Colorado University in Boulder, and she offered to host me for half of the week. I packed some heavier clothing for the change in altitude, and headed off on a plane to Colorado.
My stay with my friend, Anna, at CU Boulder was an immensely refreshing experience. We were able to catch up, reminisce about our time in Chile, swap updates about mutual friends from the study abroad program, and simply enjoy time together. It was a wonderful reminder of the quality of friendship we developed just over a year ago, and a relief to see that the friendship could endure both a continental shift and eight months apart. For me, the trip was also a wonderful change of pace. CU Boulder is very different from Oberlin, at least in geography and size. Boulder is a fairly large city, with public transportation and lots of different restaurants and places to go. I'm not trying to knock the Feve or Slow Train, but it was nice to have a few more options in the food department than usual. Coming from Ohio, where one of the highest points in Lorain County is Mount Oberlin (a small mound of grass approximately 846 feet above sea level in the athletic fields), the mountains circling Boulder were stunning to wake up to every day.
As I walked through CU's campus this past week, I tried to picture myself at the school. When applying to colleges, I had considered the alma mater of my parents, University of South Carolina in Columbia, which is also a large Division I university. Ultimately, Oberlin had appealed to me because of its smallness and sense of community in the student body. I was struck by how busy CU's campus got during passing period, and the sheer size of the campus spread throughout the city made me embarrassed for complaining about my ten-minute walk from my dorm on south campus to the gym on north campus. The athletic facilities were expansive, although I was miffed that the track was not accessible for non-CU varsity athletes. There were a lot of things that I was impressed by at Boulder, and it is undoubtedly a fantastic school. However, when I saw the size of the lecture halls, I knew I had made the right choice for myself in picking a small liberal arts college. After taking seven semesters with an average of about fifteen to twenty people in my classes, a three hundred person lecture hall did not appeal to me. In my conversations with students in Boulder, we also talked a lot about the relationships between professors and students. I regularly invite my professors to the events that I organize or to my home track and field competitions, and I feel comfortable dropping by their office hours just to chat. I got the sense that this kind of personal attention and investment in students was more rare at CU, which makes sense given the size of the university.
Senior year has made me reflect a lot about my journey at Oberlin. I am happy to report that I am still enamored with my choice of college and the education, both in the classroom and out of it, that I have found here. Stepping away from campus for a little bit this past week allowed me to remind myself why I chose this school, but also reminded me of the world that awaits after graduation. Whether the next stop is as mountainous as Chile or Boulder or as flat as the midwest, I am excited for the changes that new places and spaces will bring.