My Mom Came to Visit: An Oberlin Parent's Perspective
March 20, 2019
Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21
One of the hardest things for me as I left New Mexico for Oberlin was the idea of being separated from my family for long periods of time (I realize the privilege I have in saying this—both that I can afford to be away and that I have a good enough relationship with my family to miss them!).
That being said, one of the best things about being in Oberlin is having your friends or family visit you! There is something so special and fun about showing off your college life to your family members. Even though I am close with my family (mom, dad, younger sister, brand new labradoodle puppy named Earnest) and try to FaceTime them once a week, but it’s not the same as them actually being here.
My aunt and cousin visited me in Oberlin last spring for a few days, and I had a great time giving them a comprehensive campus tour complete with sitting in a womb chair, eating a few meals out, and introducing them to some of my closest friends.
This year, my mom and aunt were able to visit for five days, which is a good long time. My mom flew in from New Mexico and my aunt drove in from New Jersey. They arrived just in time to come to the final pitches of the LaunchU business competition and were able to see the awards ceremony, where the team associated with my psychology research lab won $20,000 to develop an app (read a tiny article about the group and the app ). While they were here, we had some fun adventures (punctuated by the fact that my younger sister back home had a series of mystery fainting episodes which turned out to be the flu—she’s completely fine now) like going to the Cleveland art museum, visiting the West Side Market in Cleveland, and going to Lake Erie. We went to a nice jazz concert, ate a few times at my co-op, and my mom helped me make granola. She also worked at one of my cook shifts and even saved us from a frittata catastrophe!
Having your family visit Oberlin can be a valuable experience. When you’re away from home for a long time, your family hears about your Oberlin experience in a remote way, which doesn’t necessarily convey exactly what your life is like. They also see how you change, and it’s possible that coming to see the place you live can provide insight into how a place informs the change you go through.
For this post, I decided to do something a little different and interview my mom about her visit and her perceptions of Oberlin. I know that the blogs are primarily geared toward prospective students, but if there are any parents out there reading my blog, and if you’re anything like my history professor mother, you might be reading these blogs to try to find out if Oberlin could be the right place for your child! And that’s great!
So, without further ado, here is Oberlin from a (completely unbiased) mother’s perspective. I hope you enjoy reading this textual interview between me and my sweet mama :).
What was your favorite part about visiting Oberlin?
This may sound weird, but then again, I am your mom and you are used to parental weirdness. My favorite parts were attending classes with you and helping to cook a meal at Tank. As a professor, I don’t often get a chance to attend somebody else’s class, and I miss it. You had talked up your translation theory course a lot so I was especially interested in that, as well as the fact that the subject matter would appeal to me personally. I found myself wanting to dive in to the conversation comparing two different versions of a fragment by the Greek poetess, Sappho. I didn’t–aren’t you proud of my motherly restraint? I also enjoyed the lecture in your psych class about the pros and cons of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). See, I took notes! I learned a lot and found myself wishing I could go back to school.
As for the meal, head cook, Luci, supervised the preparation of an amazing lunch of a potato and broccoli egg frittata, a kale-blood orange-and pear salad, lentils, rice, oven-roasted carrots and cauliflower. I got to revisit my food service days while I was simultaneously whisking about 60 eggs with a pair of tongs and browning potatoes. It is very satisfying to feed a delicious healthy meal to a big crowd.
And then there was the womb chair…. Note to fellow parents, getting in is much easier than getting out!
And finally, getting to spend time with both you and my sister, Diane, who drove out from New Jersey, was memorable.
What surprised you most about Oberlin?
I fully supported your admission to Oberlin for somewhat intangible reasons–the opportunity to experience “the life of the mind” with interesting fellow travelers, Oberlin’s historical commitment to social justice, etc. As an intellectual, I can’t think of a better way to spend my money than to enable you to have a fantastic learning environment in a kind, compassionate community. I was not thinking about an Oberlin education in a particularly pragmatic way, except as a launchpad for an eventual graduate degree.
So, what has most surprised me is the amount of practical skills and experience that you have obtained at Oberlin. Some of this dates back to your first year–working as a peer tutor in statistics, co-teaching an ExCo (Girls in Motion, managing a budget, eek!), and then acting as a PAL last fall.
When Diane and I arrived in Oberlin, you were attending LaunchU with the rest of the research team led by Professor Nancy Darling. Never in a million years did I imagine I’d encounter you at a business pitch. Congrats to your team for coming in first by the way. You also worked with your advisor to identify summer jobs and internships, applied to four, were accepted to two, and will be accumulating supervised clinical hours this summer. At your stage, I was preparing food for wedding parties and building a resume was the farthest thing from my mind.
What’s something you wish you could’ve done at Oberlin that we didn’t get to do?
Although I loved the jazz performance in the Cat in the Cream, I also would have liked to hear some classical music performed by con faculty and or students. I still remember vividly that marvelous concert during first-year orientation.
There were some friends about whom you have talked a great deal that I did not get to meet. I also wanted to meet Steve Huff [my German advisor] but I never told you that, so of course, it did not happen.
What do you feel have been the most valuable things I’ve gotten out of my Oberlin education thus far? What do you wish I had learned or experienced that I haven’t yet?
So far, your academic experience has surpassed my expectations, so this is a bit difficult to answer and perhaps it’s implicit in my response to the last question. I have enjoyed seeing you move into leadership roles (comfortably) and accumulating a really wide circle of friends. You also are mindful of work-life balance and have confronted the painful realization that sometimes you have to give up activities you value in order to see to your self-care.
In high school, ballet, while enriching and fulfilling, also structured your life very tightly. I love seeing you try new things–swing dance, tap dance, tumbling, backpacking trips during fall and spring break, etc. That said (at the risk of seeming contradictory) I’d love to see you have flexibility in your schedule to be able to perform in more dance productions because I know you miss it, and maybe try a flamenco class. And while you’re at it, how about a go at standup comedy… .
What are your hopes for me as I reach the half-way point of my Oberlin career?
Keep doing what you’re doing! Make sure that there is enough time in your schedule to be able to frequent music, theater and dance performances because you enjoy them so. Take time to laugh, check in with yourself, and explore the full range of baked goods at Blue Rooster. Buy a man sweater at Ratsy’s. Get a better bicycle; that one you have is super janky. At least nobody will steal it, but still…. [imagine the rustiest chain you’ve ever seen and a bike seat held together with purple ducktape]
If your meticulous two-year plan of coursework that you have laid out to complete two majors and a concentration doesn’t pan out, that’s OK!
If you could offer a piece of advice to future Oberlin students and or parents, what would you say?
Do not miss the first concert of the year in Finney Chapel during first-year orientation.
Go to the Hotel at Oberlin for happy hour.
Seriously, this: As it’s currently admissions and decisions season, many prospies and their parents will be wondering if the value of an Oberlin education justifies the cost and if the college will be a good fit for their child. They may also wonder about return on investment, however they choose to define that. Having spent a few days on campus, I can affirm that Obies do have a distinctive vibe. Many are non-conformists in the best sense of the word. Materialism and overt status symbols seem to hold little appeal for most. There is definitely an idealistic streak—what would you expect from students at a college whose tagline is “Think one person can change the world? So do we”?
But I also saw pragmatism, focus, and clarity about present and future goals. Obies seem intellectually curious, fundamentally kind, and very, very busy. Even though the town and college may appear small at first glance, if one were to run out of things to do, chances are he/she/they are not paying enough attention. During my visit, I saw less of my daughter than I had anticipated due to multiple scheduled commitments—classes, research, ExCos, co-op duties, etc., which is as it should be. (Adulting is real.) For our daughter, this has been an excellent choice academically, professionally, artistically, and socially. We have found it well worth it.
And there you have it! I hope you enjoyed reading a parent's perspective of Oberlin. Maybe this will become a regular installment. Dad and Sis, you’re next!
Happy Spring, Obies! Enjoy your break!
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Responses to this Entry
Excellent, well-written article. Provided me great insight as I look at various colleges with my daughter for 2020!!
Posted by: Kim Schmidt on March 22, 2019 7:52 AM
Thank you for such generous and articulate sharing of both of your experiences. This is so reassuring and aligned with how my (newly) rising Freshman Obie and I felt after our visit in April. It seems like such a special place.
Posted by: Michele Musgrove on May 1, 2019 1:57 AM
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