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Home Once More: My Off-Semester from Oberlin

April 1, 2021

Meredith Warden ’23

About one year after Oberlin went remote due to the coronavirus pandemic, I find myself in a familiar situation: at home once more. If this was a regular school year, I would be at Oberlin right now, about halfway through the second semester of my second year. But because of the College’s pandemic plan, my second semester is this upcoming summer (it will certainly be interesting to go to school during the summer, but that’s a different story). It definitely feels weird to be home again, especially when most first-years, juniors, and seniors are all on campus right now experiencing the warmer spring weather. However, I am surprisingly busy and even remain connected to Oberlin in a few different ways. 

Most of my time this off-semester is spent working on my remote internship—I’m an intern for the Young Readers Center (YRC) at the Library of Congress, which is the only place in the Library geared toward people 16 and younger. I spend about 2 to 3 hours each day doing work for this internship—adding up to about 10-15 hours a week, or a part-time internship. The internship is unpaid, but I got funding through Oberlin because I participated in Oberlin’s SOAR program. I really love being a YRC intern so far because the internship is at the intersection of many things I’m interested in—education, history, research, writing, and more. I get to weed old books for the YRC collection (more fun than it sounds), recommend sensational new books for young readers, explore the Library of Congress’s vast digital collections (which is only 10% of its total collections) and even do my own research. I really wish the internship was in-person (just look at how stunning the Library is!), but I’m enjoying it even while I work from home. So far, it’s an incredible internship, one that I probably wouldn’t have found if I was in school now like I’d usually be. 

Another large chunk of my time is taken up with work related to the History Design Lab, a digital humanities site at Oberlin that houses different projects related to history. As an associate editor, I work primarily on our undergraduate research publication, On Second Thought. This semester, we are publishing our first-ever print edition of the journal (YAY!), so doing the organizing, editing, font choice, design, and other work for that takes up a fair amount of my time. It’s incredible though to see our print issue coming together, and it will be an even better feeling to hold a published copy in May. I’m also working on a scholarly biography this semester for another History Design Lab project, the African-American Women Intellectuals Project, which has student-written scholarly biographies of Black women alumnae of Oberlin. Writing this biography has been a great way to do research even when not in school—I’ve learned a lot about the person the biography is on and how to write in this genre of academic text. My Library of Congress internship has also come in handy—as I’m becoming more familiar with what the Library has, I’m using its resources for these projects! Perhaps my favorite thing about working at the History Design Lab though is our virtual meetings. Although we definitely do work during these meetings, I always have a lot of fun talking with people who share my love for history, and they help me still feel connected to Oberlin and the things I’m involved in there even when I’m not actually there.

The final thing I want to talk about is an ExCo I’m in this semester. If you don’t know, Oberlin ExCo (A.K.A experimental college) has courses taught by students or other members of the Oberlin community that you can take for credit, audit, or just sit in on. I’ve always wanted to take an ExCo but had never found one that interested me enough to take on top of regular college classes. But because I’m not taking any academic courses this semester, I have time—and when I saw YipYipCo in the ExCo course catalog, I immediately knew that I had to apply. YipYipCo is an ExCo class about the well-known show Avatar: The Last Airbender, which you are probably at least somewhat familiar with if you’re close in age to me. I grew up watching this show, so I love having the chance to approach it from a new, more ‘academic’ angle. The class is SO much fun and we have great conversations. We’ve even had a few quite cutthroat trivia competitions where I won some Avatar-themed stickers (that have found their home on the back of my laptop). Like my work at the History Design Lab, this ExCo makes me feel more connected to Oberlin’s community, so I’m very thankful for it.

Although it feels odd and sometimes isolating to be home once more, these activities help me feel connected to Oberlin even when I’m not physically there. And in some ways, not being enrolled this semester has given me the chance to explore more opportunities—like an internship at the Library of Congress or taking an ExCo without worrying about work for other classes. I still am very excited to go back to school soon (two months!), but I’m also happy that I still feel connected to Oberlin’s community even when I’m hundreds of miles away.

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