Oberlin Blogs

How to Cure the Small Town Blues

August 8, 2018

Sarah Dalgleish ’20

Over the past two years, I’ve hosted a lot of prospective students and one of the most common questions I get from them is if I ever feel stir crazy or stuck living in such a small town. And while the answer is inevitably sometimes yes, I absolutely love living in Oberlin and I’ve learned that a huge part of not feeling stuck is being very conscious about making an effort to explore and stay busy.  Here are some of the best strategies I’ve learned to accomplish that.


1. You don’t have to leave Oberlin to see the world

Oberlin's Big Parade
Oberlin's annual Big Parade! Image credit: LC Explorer

As a student at Oberlin, the world literally comes to you. I have gone to events featuring Ed Helms, Michele Norris, one of my favorite poets Anis Mojgani, one of my favorite singers Lucy Dacus, RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Aja, and so, SO many more incredible people just a few hundred feet from my dorm room. Often these guests are more than willing to talk with students and some of my most memorable experiences here have been getting advice from people I greatly admire. For instance, I went to a talk called Diversity in Journalism by Buzzfeed writer and podcast host Ahmed Ali Akbar, then got to spend two hours having a conversation with him and a few other students about how to break into podcasting.

All that being said, one of my biggest pieces of advice for being at Oberlin is this: go to the events. As many as you can. They’re usually free or at most a few dollars and there’s something for everyone. Even better than going to events you’re interested in is going to something you never thought you would like. I’ve discovered some of my new favorite music groups, authors, and poets by doing this.


2. Cleveland is underrated and deserves more love

It’s such a cool city! The drive is only half an hour from Oberlin and Cleveland has so much to offer. Even if you don’t have a car, you can rent one from the school, carpool, or go on trips organized by Oberlin’s program board. Cleveland deserves its own blog post, but very briefly here are some of my favorite places in the city:

  • The Cleveland Art Museum is free and one of the best in the country. I can’t recommend it enough.
  • West Side Market is a huge indoor/outdoor food market. The historic building it’s in is beautiful and there are so many different types of foods to try. Last time I was there I had a Mexican tamale, Japanese bubble tea, and an Italian cannoli for lunch!
  • Speaking of Italian, Little Italy has amazing food and is fun to explore-- definitely a crowd pleaser for parents' weekend or a chilly Ohio winter night.
  • In my opinion, the hidden gem of Cleveland is Tabletop. The cafe has shelves and shelves of every board game imaginable, and for $5, you can stay for as long as you want and play all of them.
  • Playhouse Square is Cleveland’s theater district. Sometimes Oberlin classes will take field trips here—I saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream with my English class last year and it was so fun!


3. Take advantage of summer and winter term

While Oberlin offers tons of on-campus research opportunities, the Career Development Center is very accessible and can help you find internships or jobs anywhere in the world. In the months leading up to summer, they have open meeting times every week where you can come for drop-in sessions. I came completely panicked to several of those meetings and left every time feeling like I had a plan. I ended up spending this past summer at home in Boulder because I wanted to be close to my family and the mountains. I got to coach the swim team I grew up competing for, which was a childhood dream.

Thanks to winter term, if you don’t want to be in Ohio during January, you don’t have to! I personally have spent the past two winter terms on campus and loved the tranquility and chance to do an independent project there, but the majority of students go somewhere else for the month. It’s a great chance to travel, and there are opportunities to do so with programs through the school—a lot of which offer scholarships—and to do independent travel. I have had friends go to South Africa to study great white sharks, Paris to assist with research for a book, Egypt to study at the American University in Cairo, El Salvador for a cultural exchange, and so many other cool places. Lots of people also stay at home or with friends in a different city to do an internship or project. Depending on what you need, winter term can be a huge adventure, a chance to rest at home and do a solitary project, or anything in between.


4. Study Abroad

View of the city of Santiago, Chile and the Andes mountains from above
The view of Santiago from the top of Cerro San Crístobal-- defintely a change from Ohio!

I’m writing this in Santiago, Chile, during my first week of studying abroad here this semester (more to come on this)! When deciding where to go abroad, I knew I wanted something very different from a small midwestern town, so I picked a Spanish-speaking South American city of 7 million people. I cannot praise the Oberlin study away office enough for how helpful they are and how easy they make the sometimes very confusing process of getting ready to live and go to school in another country. Oberlin as an institution is extremely supportive of studying away, and while I’m only a week in, I already highly recommend it.


5. Spend your breaks somewhere else

People come from everywhere to Oberlin and it’s fun to be able to visit friends all over the country (and world). For fall break this past year, my friends and I road-tripped to my roommate’s house in New Jersey and spent our break in New York City!

If you don’t want to plan your own trip, the Oberlin Outdoor Club will do it for you. They offer various camping trips led by students every break, and there’s a lottery system for who goes with which group, which means you get to travel with and get to know new people. To learn more about the trips, visit the club’s website!


6. And one final tip

Oberlin students playing Quidditch on campus
There is ALWAYS something happening on campus. Image credit: Oberlin News-Tribune.

The quickest way to make a small town feel smaller is by staying in your small dorm room all day. Get out and explore Oberlin! If you don’t want to be around people, take a walk through Tappan Square or see a movie at the beautiful Apollo Theater. If you do want to be around people, there is always, always something happening on campus. Obies are generally really welcoming and will be excited for you to participate in their club or event or pickup Quidditch game. Even though Oberlin is a geographically small town, it’s full of energetic people always making sure there is something fun to do. Don’t believe me? Check out our jam-packed events calendar!

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