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Introduction to Oberlin life through the eyes of an international student

October 28, 2019

Lucas Draper ’23

Orientation, one of the many things every freshman must experience. Oberlin’s orientation immerses you in the culture and allows you to make connections with your classmates. The staff involved in the organisation work hard to make sure you receive plenty of resources to succeed before you even step into the classroom.

Orientation for me, as an international student, started out a little differently. I arrived before the domestic freshmen class for the international orientation weekend. We spent most of the weekend learning about what life is like as an international student and various things about American culture. The main highlight of international orientation for me was the international brunch at the hotel. President Ambar gave a very interesting and moving speech, which helped to ease my homesickness slightly, and I am very grateful to her for that. The staff at the International Student Resource Centre (ISRC) are also really accommodating and welcoming and I am so grateful to Josh Whitson for the effort he put into making me and the other freshmen from around the globe feel welcome here at Oberlin from the moment we stepped onto campus.

You’re probably wondering at this point what I learnt throughout international orientation. Here are four things I feel highlight one key point that I have found myself saying many times since I arrived: Americans are weird.

     1. Tipping is definitely a thing in America (shocking for you locals, I know).

Tipping is a big thing here in America, and it’s the one thing that if you don’t do it, you’re going to get some dirty looks. I still am not 100% down on how to tip, but generally, if you sit down and eat somewhere, you have to tip. Everywhere else it’s optional. I remember when I first arrived here, I was so afraid of upsetting someone by forgetting to tip I asked the woman serving me at the grocery store if I had to tip her! Luckily for me, she told me I didn’t, but she totally could have made some extra cash that day by lying to me. If you have an Apple phone as well with the new update, they have a shortcut you can use to calculate the tip easily as well, so that has saved me a few times!

     2. Tax changes state to state and isn’t included in the shelf price.

This was something particularly confusing for me. Here in Lorain County, the tax is 6.75%, which is a horrible percentage to calculate. This isn’t displayed on stuff you buy, so you get a surprise when you get to the counter to pay. It’s also not applied to everything, and what it applies also differs between states. So, as I said earlier, Americans are weird.

     3. Words for things are very different.

In Australia, we shorten almost everything. Arvo, Barbie, ute, servo and sickie are a few of my favourite slang terms. But we also use a bunch of different words for things, which is confusing both for you Americans and for me. It’s been a serious learning experience but it’s also kind of fun. One of the hardest adjustments for me has been language use, especially when it comes to swimming. The coach here uses very different words to what I use back home to describe the various parts of swimming, and I constantly have to ask for help from my teammates to explain to me what we have to do.

     4. They do everything on the opposite side.

If there’s one thing you know about America, it’s probably that they drive on the right-hand side of the road. One thing I didn’t realise when I arrived here is how far that goes. They also walk on the right side of a sidewalk and swim down the opposite side of a lap lane. I’ve had many occasions where I nearly walked into someone because I was walking on the left. I’ve also had to focus at practice to try and make sure I don’t crash into my teammates. As my teammates can attest, I have had bruises on my right elbow for a while now, but it's slowly getting better and the bruises are going away. 

The next major event of orientation was domestic move in. It was a hard experience watching all of the domestic students have their parents help them move in. As I travelled all the way from Australia on my own, I moved in without my parent's help and I struggled a lot with homesickness. So, watching my roommate’s dad raise her bed and her mum put her clothes into the closet was an emotionally draining experience. To all my international student readers, know that although you may be similar to me and be incredibly homesick in the first week or so, I promise you that it gets better. Some days it feels like you’re going to fall into a well and not be able to get out, but eventually, the light at the top will slowly get brighter and eventually the well will become a puddle.

In saying all that depressing stuff, I also need to say that meeting my roommate was an awesome experience, and we get along really well, which is fantastic. She’s on the track and field team, so we’re both really into sports, and we both like the same kinds of shows. She’s also really obsessed with ‘H2O: Just Add Water’, an Australian TV show, so it’s funny watching those shows with her and seeing her obsession with a show I grew up on.

One of my favourite moments from the whole orientation experience was Connect Cleveland. My entire freshman class spent the day exploring the wider Cleveland community, and doing various tasks from paper making to art conservation, to my excursion, which was visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. My group spent the time learning about the various impacts of African American music history on the history of music in Cleveland. It was a very interesting presentation, and I definitely now have a greater understanding of the engrained effects of music in Cleveland’s rich history. So, if you are ever looking for something to do over a weekend or a term break, I highly recommend the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

My other favourite experience about orientation was getting to enjoy the RAs perform a rendition of ‘The OC’, a play that has been in Oberlin’s history for as long as anyone here appears to be able to remember. The play covers a variety of issues, from time management to consent, and I very much enjoyed watching the performance and getting some laughs at a time when I was still emotionally troubled from the move.

Orientation, Connect Cleveland, and the various presentations we all attended definitely helped me to get a feel for Oberlin and the culture of the town. I am incredibly grateful to the organisers of orientation for their efforts. I am so glad I chose to attend Oberlin, and although I am very far from home, I am starting to feel like I have made a new home here in Oberlin.

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