Being at Oberlin has opened more doors for me in the realm of travel than I ever imagined possible. Between fall break, spring break, winter term, study abroad opportunities, and the network of friends from all over the country and world that you will make at Oberlin, the possibilities for independent, cheap, and life-changing travel experiences are endless.
My first time venturing out into the great unknown with other Oberlin students was when I signed up for a backpacking trip with Oberlin's Outings Club. This club is one of the college's best-kept secrets - last time I checked, a $15 one-time membership fee gets you borrowing access to their supply closet of tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, and air mattresses, and the opportunity to sign up for all-expenses-paid hiking, camping, canoeing, and rafting excursions organized by the club. My friend Shari talked me into the backpacking trip to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky with her - we went with three other then-strangers, and despite it raining for the first 40 hours of our venture into the woods, the trip was an absolute blast.
We splashed through puddles, sang in the rain, played in mud, curled up wet and cold in our tent and made oatmeal, warmed ourselves with stories, and spent our final morning of the trip nestled in sleeping bags on a dock, counting shooting stars in a chance meteor shower as we waited for the sun to come up. We returned to Oberlin (smelling fairly bad but...) mentally rejuvenated - and with a new, tightly knit circle of friends. The five of us continued to get together in the months and years that followed to drink tea and reminisce about our adventures in Kentucky.
The next trip I made was for winter term my sophomore year, with several Oberlin friends. We drove down to New Orleans to do relief work in the hurricane-ravaged city. Although it had been a year and a half since Katrina hit, there was (and still is) a tremendous amount of work to be done. Most of what we did consisted of gutting houses, in order to prepare them to be rebuilt - emptying them of all the furniture and possessions (most of which hadn't been touched since the storm), tearing down walls, ceilings and plaster, pulling up floors, and removing thousands of nails from the remaining wood foundation.
The organization we worked through, Catholic Charities, did a wonderful job with everything - they housed us, fed us, and made a big effort to really connect us with the actual families whose homes we worked on. I will never forget one couple who'd been living in a trailer in their yard since Katrina, waiting for volunteers to help them rebuild their home. When our team arrived, the couple called us their angels, and presented us all with candles to represent their gratitude. At night, we spent time exploring New Orleans itself, falling in love with it, understanding why even after a storm tore it apart, people weren't ready to give their city up.
My experience studying abroad in Amsterdam could merit an entire entry of its own (or, for that matter, an entire blog! Find it at yitkaabroad.blogspot.com) and I couldn't even begin to sum up how transformative that semester was. I've heard that over 60% (Admissions folks, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) of Oberlin students opt to study abroad at some point. If, like me, you're on financial aid here and choose an associated program - of which there are a LOT - all the aid transfers quite seamlessly, so aside from the sorry state of the American dollar right now, studying abroad isn't any more expensive than being here. The study abroad office on campus is filled with books and books full of students' reviews of different programs, so you can really do your research and find one that's good for you.
During my five months abroad, I had the good fortune to spend a week in Istanbul, a weekend in a remote Turkish village, a week in Zagreb, a week in Barcelona, and all of January backpacking around the rest of Europe with my friend, Ruth.
We had Eurail passes (okay, these were admittedly pricey...) and rode trains and ships all over the continent for a month (believe it or not, sailing across the Adriatic Sea from the islands of Greece to the shore of Italy on a ten-deck cruise ship is "free" with a Eurail pass!) We started by celebrating New Year's in London, then moving onto Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Athens, and finally Geneva - a whirlwind tour of sightseeing, making friends, trying out new foods, and relaxing in Hungarian thermal spas for six hours straight (and the equivalent of a few dollars). We also had an accidental four-hour stay in Bratislava, but hey, spontaneity and learning to roll with it is part of the adventure of traveling.
If you have any remote interest in seeing more of the world, Oberlin can help you get there. School-sponsored trips have been organized all over South and Central America, Africa, Europe; post-grad fellowships, some for which Oberlin is one of just a few lucky schools to be eligible, are available for projects on pretty much every continent, grad school abroad, studying at Oxford, teaching English in Asia, a year of virtually unlimited world travel, or pretty much anything else you can dream up. If somehow traveling isn't your cup of tea, I say this: it's near impossible to be at Oberlin and not have at least some small spark of wanderlust ignited in you during your years here. Dream big!