Oberlin Blogs

Inside An Oberlin Student’s Backpack | In The Bag | Vogue

December 23, 2023

Julia Xu '27

[Cue jazzy transition music and a title card over a random clip of me taking things out of my bag with a fake Super 8 film frame and sprocket hole edited on top for aesthetic purposes.]

1. Headphones

(Confession: I put my headphones in my backpack 5 minutes ago and I’m taking them out and pretending to be surprised they’re in there for the sake of this very scripted celebrity interview. They’re usually on my head. Obviously.)

You’ll find a lot of people at Oberlin walking around with headphones or earbuds in, not just Conservatory students trying to finish their last minute analysis of Vampire by Olivia Rodrigo for their Music Theory final essay (hem hem: my friend Zach, for whom scrolling on YouTube counts as studying).

I was especially grateful for my headphones on Monday and Wednesday mornings this past term, when I had to walk across a desolate campus to my 8:35AM First Year Seminar (FYSP)—which I loved, by the way, just hated getting up for, especially after daylight savings. I have a designated walking playlist for low-energy mornings like these, with peppier songs at specific BPMs that I can align my steps with. (The last song I speed-walked to was Psycho Killer by Talking Heads, BPM of 123.)

2. Water bottle

I mean a reusable one (for environmental and practical purposes). I personally have an irrational fear of drinking from water fountains in front of other people—it’s not an issue of germs, I just think I look stupid. Almost every water fountain at Oberlin has one of those automatic bottle fillers and trust me, you will learn to use them very quickly. It’s not like at home, where the kitchen and a nice empty cup are just a few seconds away. Once you’re cozy in bed, you won’t want to get up and hunt down the nearest water fountain. 

I usually keep one or two plastic water bottles in my room in case of emergency or for guests, but once they’re empty they take up so much space in my trash can and the 30-second walk to my hall’s recycling bin is just sooo arduous. A water bottle will save your life. (And probably your friends who lost their water bottles and never bought new ones’ lives too.)

3. ONE Folder

With the exception of my FYSP professor, who liked our essays printed, and my Government and Politics of Africa professor, who gave us paper copies of the lecture notes—your syllabi, almost all your work, and any forms can be found, completed, and submitted online. Save your back and don’t buy that binder or set of overpriced Rae Dunn folders.

If you like to keep old notes and/or graded work, I’d recommend getting an accordion folder just to keep in your dorm. After fall midterms, I emptied out my backpack folder and sorted everything into my dorm folder, which (depending on your courses and preferences) can save a lot of space and even come in handy for finals.

4. Laptop, iPad, etc.

In tandem with the previous item, I find it so much easier to keep all my work digital. I love a good paperback or notebook (as you will see with the next item), but there’s no point in buying textbooks or required readings when they are almost always made available by your teacher or as a free pdf online. If you do end up spending money on books, I will always advocate for eBooks—some sites have “borrowing” options that can save you quite a bit of money and backpack space.

I like to take notes on my laptop so I can keep up with the speed of the lecture, but the majority of my teachers make lecture slides or notes available after class, so it’s not uncommon to take notes by hand.

I think an iPad or tablet (and stylus!) is a worthwhile investment, especially if you’re handwriting notes for multiple classes. It can be pricey upfront, but if you’re not concerned about getting the latest model—I use my iPad almost exclusively for annotating (pdfs of textbooks, lecture notes, scanned book pages, etc.) and referencing readings and notes while writing essays to avoid the hassle of a split screen—a quick Google search (like the one I did just now) presents a multitude of options under $200 or even $150 with many more features than you’ll ever need for school.

5. Portable charger

I’m lucky that my dorm is pretty close to all the places I frequent—King (where all my classes were last term) is an 8-9 minute walk from my room on the third floor at a “meandering” pace, Wilder (underneath which you can find the mail lockers and DeCafé, Umami, and Rathskeller, which are all places to eat) is 3 minutes, and Mudd (the main library which also houses Azariah’s Café, my favorite study spot) is 5-6 minutes. If my phone were ever about to die, I could run back to my room and get a charger faster than you could say “FOMO.”

Despite this, I make it a personal mission not to return to my dorm once I leave for class in the morning unless I am planning to go to bed. Why torture myself like this, you may ask, especially in the face of my friends who live almost half a mile away from Wilder? It’s my wretched, very comfortable, very tempting bed.

In other words, the things in my backpack are carefully curated so I can pack light but have everything I need. A portable charger smaller than the size of my hand is so much more convenient than carrying around cords and searching for a seat near a power outlet (which, during finals week, is like finding parking outside a BestBuy on Black Friday). Bonus points for not being chained to an outlet and able to charge on the go.

6. Lip balm, face masks, medication, etc.

Again, I must admit, these things aren’t technically in my bag. My little pill organizer with Tylenol and my ADHD medication, etc. travels with me throughout the day, but the lip balm always goes into the pocket of my jeans and the mask goes into the pocket of my leather jacket.

As college students, we’re always forgoing breakfast for the sake of an extra snooze or, alternatively, forgoing sleep in the name of a deadline. I’m not always the most put together. In fact, I’m almost never put together. It’s little things, however, like plugging in all my devices and packing my bag the night before, being able to lend someone a pen or spare mask, and never being caught with crusty winter-air lips, that make me feel a little more like I know what I’m doing.

But anyway, nobody really knows what they’re doing. The whole point of undergrad, after all, is figuring out what you want to do and then trying to get there. And I’m getting there, one Vogue interview at a time!

Similar Blog Entries