It’s safe to say that when I came back to Oberlin this semester, I really had no way to predict what my experience would look like. After settling into what felt like a groove last fall when I was on campus, I thought I knew, to some degree, what the rest of my college experience might look like. But not so!
When the fall semester rolled around, I knew that I certainly wouldn’t be having the busy, full schedule I expected, since I wouldn’t be working in a co-op or doing any of the in-person student jobs I thought I’d be doing when I got back in August. Even though this semester was so different in so many ways from a normal year at Oberlin, it was different in a lot of surprising and fulfilling ways, and it’s honestly been one of my best semesters ever.
What struck me most about this fall semester is that things have operated at a different pace than they normally do, but in a way that has been really positive for me. I’m not the first person to say that COVID-19 has slowed life down in certain capacities, nor will I be the last, but I was surprised by how this new pace actually manifested for me while studying at Oberlin.
To start, my circle became so much smaller. Most of my classes were online this semester, meaning that ‘‘going to class’’ meant walking from my kitchen or living room into my own room, sitting at my window desk, and logging onto Zoom. ‘‘Going to class’’ used to mean biking or walking quickly from my co-op to one of the several different buildings where I had class, seeing hordes of students spilling out of the classrooms, dorms, and libraries between class periods.
Naturally, there was just a lot less running around this semester. It’s always fun to have perspective; before now, I didn’t realize just how much my Oberlin experience had been defined by rushing from place to place throughout an entire day. I do miss the hustle and bustle a little bit, especially seeing people I knew in passing or going to a co-op meal at the end of a long day, but in some ways, the simpler, reined-in experience I had this semester was really nice. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely had my busy weeks with tests to prep for, readings to complete, and papers to draft, but this semester was also characterized by a surprising and sweet serendipity and opportunities for simultaneity that so many of my other Oberlin semesters have lacked.
Especially at the beginning of the semester, I found myself with unexpected time to go on walks, call a family member out of the blue, go to the pottery co-op to make mediocre mugs, or just read a fun book before tucking in for the night. While there were also generally a lot fewer events on weekends, I didn’t mind that so much either, even though going to concerts, plays, and other events has been historically one of my favorite things about being at Oberlin.
I am, at the end of the day, a homebody introvert, so I didn’t complain about the extra time with my housemates watching movies and shows (everything from the iconic Great British Bake-Off to the uh, lesser-known cinematic masterpieces like the 2018 classic Velocipastor). And speaking of housemates, they have been a shining beacon of light during this weird, weird semester. Because we all had some online classes, there was always someone around, and we bonded through burrito nights, lots of movies, petting our neighbor’s cat, and yes, even a mild and persistent ladybug infestation.
Another really wonderful thing about this semester has been the fact that I no longer live in a dorm. I loved co-op living (I mean, most things about it) in a beautiful old, historic house, but living in my own real adult home off campus with my housemates has been a high point of the year.
Our house is on a real street in a real neighborhood and is far enough away from campus that there is some divide between my college and non-college life (well, to the extent that that’s possible when you also go to class in your bedroom). Given that there are not a plethora of events happening this semester, I have been going on so many more walks to the nearby Arb and a small nature preserve up the road.
My housemates and I also indulged in some COVID-safe fun activities a short drive away, like visiting a nearby creek or going apple picking at one of the many orchards in the area. Perhaps best of all has been my housemate purchasing a used road bike at a yard sale earlier this semester. Luckily, she and I are roughly similar sizes, and I’ve been borrowing her bike and taking it out a few times a week, when the weather allows it, on the Oberlin bike path and empty-ish rural roads.
In short, I’ve felt much more connected to the town of Oberlin and the greater landscape of Northeast Ohio than ever before, and this is due in large part to getting out more and being a bit further away from the campus bubble. I’ve been so much more in-tune to the passing of the seasons and the rhythms of life in a small Midwestern town. It’s a very different Oberlin life from the one I’ve lived before now, but in many ways, it’s been a slower, calmer, and happier one.
Even though this semester was full of external stressors like the pandemic and a scarily close presidential election, it’s honestly been one of my least anxious semesters on record. I am very privileged to even be able to say this, but it’s the truth. One of my good friends my first year at Oberlin, who was a fourth-year at the time, told me that her happiest semesters at Oberlin were the ones where she did the least. I can say that my experience has aligned with this.
While I do miss doing a lot of the things that used to fill my time at Oberlin, I’ve also been so grateful for the chance to step back and reexamine my priorities and spend more time on the things that matter a lot to me, like spending time outdoors, staying in touch with family, and maintaining the close friendships and relationships that I already have. And I’ve gotten to be so much more OK with RESTING than I ever was before. I used to feel guilty for taking breaks, especially when there is always so much work to be done as an Oberlin student.
Now I relish the opportunity to stop working and fully enjoy other pursuits. In other words, I’ve more-or-less obtained the elusive work/life balance that can be so hard to find at Oberlin since there are so many challenging and fulfilling ways to engage on campus. Perks of the pandemic, as my wise mother would say.
It’s been extra important during this time to cultivate a practice of gratitude, and I’m happy that I could find the silver linings this semester despite everything being such a massive departure from my prior college experience. Ultimately, this has been one of my happiest semesters at Oberlin, and even though it was during a pandemic, I’ll still look back on this fall fondly, and hey, when this is all over, it’ll make a pretty great story someday.
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