Oberlin Blogs

Good Morning Carlisle, Pennsylvania

June 13, 2023

Hanna Alwine ’26

I have been home for a little over three weeks. I’m only just making my way through the fourth, but moving out of Oberlin already feels several months away. These days I wake up late, pulled from my bed by the late morning sun rather than relying on the grating screech of my alarm clock. Here, slow breakfasts lead into sleepy afternoons. I have exchanged one small town for another — Oberlin, Ohio for Carlisle, Pennsylvania — and, though I appreciate being home and relish the home-cooked meals devoid of the co-op's often overcooked rice and undercooked beans, I have found myself missing Oberlin. 

I am newly aware of how difficult it is to appreciate a place and a time until you are no longer in that space or moment. There is a quote that often flits across my screen when I am sunk into an Instagram doomscroll, breaking up the gauntlet of cat videos and, as of late, strings of alpha male parodies — “I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them.” It’s a quote from Oberlin’s very own Ed Helms acting as the character Andy Bernard from the Internet’s favorite sitcom The Office. But even if the quote comes from a chronically pretentious fictional Cornell acapella singer, the message rings true. It’s rather profound, one that always pulls me from my doomscroll to contemplate, for a small moment, whether or not I am appreciating the good old days. Are the moments I am currently living in the good old days? How do I know? Do the good old days even exist or are they simply everyday happenings colored by the rose tint of memory? I return to my scroll. 

But as I reflect on the past two semesters — my very first semesters of college — I find myself drawn to these hypotheticals. Did these past two semesters comprise the good old days? Will they be the good old days in ten years? Did I appreciate them enough while I was in them? There is so much pressure on these four years, often said to be the best years of our lives. Could I class this past year in this category? 

As I look back, what swims to the forefront is not night bike rides to the Oberlin Wildflower Preserve or time spent studying (or avoiding studying) on the second floor of Mudd or even days spent trekking to the Local for a cup of $2 joe, though these memories have been integral to my Oberlin experience. Instead I remember being incredibly busy — at times horrifyingly so.  

My second semester at Oberlin was one of the busiest times in my life. I was working two jobs — spending my mornings serving coffee to the overworked student body from behind the counter of Azariah’s Cafe while working nights and afternoons in the Burton basement doing my part to contribute to the Oberlin Review. I had a full slate of classes. I was trying to have a social life. About halfway through the semester I decided my plate wasn’t full enough and joined the intramural ice hockey team. I spent much of my semester running from activity to activity with barely enough time to eat and sleep, functioning on a mix of caffeine and Dayquil and whatever carbohydrate the Harkness Co-op Tasty Thing Maker had decided to make that week. 

None of this is to say that I wasn’t having fun. I enjoyed my packed schedule. I came to like hopping on my bike to breeze from class to class, bringing the commute across campus from ten minutes to five. I felt busy and productive in a way that I hadn’t the first semester. There was a sense that I was fitting in, finding a place in adulthood where I could make things and do things faster and better than I ever had before. I found myself awash in the capitalistic Protestant aura of achievement. I was thriving. 

Transitioning from an environment of constant movement to Carlisle where, for the past couple weeks, my obligations have been reduced to emptying the dishwasher and feeding the neighbor's dog, I have found myself missing that productivity induced dopamine rush. To compensate, I've thrown myself into the job search, sending email after email, making call after call. I volunteered to help my mother plant natives at the local middle school. I forced my enthusiastic aid upon my father as he worked to construct an A-frame chicken house for a series of six chicks my family had spontaneously acquired this spring. I found myself trying to induce the same level of activity I had kept up at Oberlin, but found that there weren’t nearly enough tasks around to fill my time. 

Returning home has been an exercise in relaxation and letting go. The classic Oberlin student work ethic can be inspiring. Everyone I interact with is involved in twenty different activities, pursuing three separate internships, working on a money making gig on the side, and in the process of picking up four more new hobbies to keep themselves occupied during their three seconds of down time. I love being around such passionate, motivated people. Without this environment, I’m not sure if I would have had the courage to try so many new things. 

But this environment can be exhausting. It is difficult to be constantly measuring yourself against others on campus, trying to figure out if your packed schedule stacks up to theirs. While on campus I found myself asking: What am I doing that is moving me forward? What more can I do to keep up? While there is certainly benefit to personal growth, it is just as important to take time to rest and slow down. It is vital that, amidst the Oberlin hustle, we take time to reflect on why we are working so hard and what exactly it is we are working towards. 

Coming home has given me this space to think and to reflect and to finally catch up on all the recreational reading I had been putting aside. Over the course of the past two semesters I have accrued a large collection of gifted and recommended books — a series of literary to-dos that will "Seriously change my life" or else "Broaden my perspective" or else "Irrevocably shift my understanding of myself and/or the world." It’s only the return to leisure that has allowed me the space to break into this pile and, while I have yet to read the book that changes my life forever, I have rediscovered the joy of sipping a cup of hot coffee as the birds rejoice the coming of a day devoid of plans and obligations. 

Being home has given me a fresh perspective on how I would like to enter my next year at Oberlin. Next semester I hope to be involved in many of the same activities. I want to continue as the Opinions Editor of the Oberlin Review. My passion for serving the caffeine-deprived Oberlin populace is still strong. I will once again have a packed class schedule. Though far from proficient I have found a deep love for hockey on ice. I am sure that my schedule next fall will be busy; in fact, I’m counting on it. In entering this environment, I know I want to make space to sit back and relax every so often. I want to sip a hot coffee in the mornings and flip through the pages of a potentially revolutionary book. I would like to have the time to reflect and appreciate the good old days while they’re happening. I’m not interested in anything less.

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