How I Explain My Oberlin College Experience to the People Not Living It
As I begin packing up my room to go back home to California, I’m already feeling a little sentimental, especially knowing that I won’t be back until the summer because of the COVID school schedule.
I was thinking of what kinds of memories I will think back to most when I get home, and I realized that the ones I tend to reminisce on when I begin missing Oberlin all follow a similar feeling. So here goes: Two experiences that happened in the last month that sum up how Oberlin feels to me. When preparing to go to college, I always wished someone would explain how their college experience actually makes them feel, so this is my stab at that. It's only my own experience, so take it with a grain of salt, but I hope it brings someone some help or at least a nice feeling.
1.) At 8:30 am on a Monday, I pulled myself out of bed and tugged my curtain aside to reveal the most downcast grey sky in America. I looked at the clouds for a moment longer and they looked back at me and the day was branded lethargic right then and there. Slowly waking up as I went through the motions of the morning, my eyes were fully open by the time I logged onto my Philosophy Zoom class at 9 am.
Then, a moment of pure light occurred, one that was so joyous that I continue to tell everyone I know about it today. Our professor announced that she would be starting the class by reading us one of her daughter’s Frog and Toad books. She cleared her throat dramatically and began reading, stopping only to hold up the pictures, pointing out Toad’s 19th-century breathing suit and Frog’s impressively long toes. As the storytelling ended, we broke into smaller groups on Zoom to discuss Frog and Toad’s bravery in relation to Aristotle’s theory on virtue ethics. The next 40 minutes of class was a debate over Toad’s false sense of bravery, which clearly revealed the nostalgic diehard fans (me) and my classmates who had never heard of the two lifelong friends.
Though the clouds did not part outside, the appearance of Frog and Toad filled me with such warmth at such an early hour. As I consider the moment, I try to understand why the class brought me such joy. Partly it was that nostalgia I mentioned, but it was also a kind reminder that in academia, especially in a course where the concepts can become quite complicated, there can also exist moments of pure silliness and creativity that remind us that even Frog and Toad can be subjects of philosophical scrutiny.
2.) 9 pm on a Thursday and I was late! So late! Struggling to put on shoes. I burst from the doors of Harkness (my lovely co-op-currently-turned-dorm) into the dark summer air and began sprinting blindly toward Tappan Square. By the time I reached the corner, I realized running with a mask on was far more difficult than it looked, but the appointment was too important to miss.
A few more blocks, round a corner, through a parking lot, and there it was gleaming in the moonlight: a rusty old pile of bikes. Bike Co-op is a student-run organization that does exactly what it sounds like it does. Students volunteer their time to dismantle and rebuild bikes and run a bike rental program that lets students show up (sometimes late), pay a small fee, and rent a bike for the semester.
This year, because of the shortened semester due to COVID-19, the rental price was only $10, and by the time I showed up late, there were only three bikes left. The moment that really encapsulates my experience at Oberlin included the next 30 minutes. First, another girl showed up to claim a bike, and we were encouraged to try them out before deciding. The absolute blissful freedom of biking loops around a badly lit parking lot hollering at each other that we loved bikes definitely feels right. So did the following interactions, where we convened by the front of the bike co-op, and discovered that the girl who was also getting a bike and the girl who could build bikes and was managing the co-op that night were both named Ava.
That moment of serendipity combined with the silly ecstasy of doing something as simple as biking around for the first time in five years created a feeling I think about often, especially when missing Oberlin.
While these two memories are small, specific moments in my greater college experience, they encapsulate a feeling that I associate distinctly with Oberlin.
Of course, my college experience is also composed of bad days, or hours of school work, but when I go back home on breaks and try to explain the experience I’m having at Oberlin to my friends, this is the feeling I try to convey—one that is giddy and full of moments of deep-seated joy and appreciation.