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Oberlin From Afar

March 3, 2021

Biba Duffy-Boscagli ’23

Yesterday, I joined a rugby team from my bed. Maybe joined is a strong word to use here, but I’m now on the e-mail list and I certainly plan to play when I get back to campus and it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, the team holds virtual workouts and Zoom meetings to keep the spirit of the team alive for people like me, who are not enrolled this semester because of COVID-19. 

Normally, on campus I find myself running from one class or activity to another, sometimes even physically jogging if I’ve scheduled meetings or shifts at various jobs too close together. Now, with my only meeting place being Zoom, I find that the jog I once did across campus still exists online. Instead of trying to remember where a specific building is, I now sift through emails searching for the correct Zoom link. I’m sure you know the feeling. So why do I do it? Why submit myself to endless Zoom calls and set up meetings for clubs I can’t run in person? While a clear answer might be that I made commitments to maintain these clubs, Excos, and jobs before COVID-19 hit, another more truthful answer would be my love for all my Oberlin activities, which keep me connected to campus, even while I’m away. 

I’m a second-year, and if the COVID-19 had never happened I’d now be midway though the second semester of my sophomore year, probably juggling work and midterms, having picnics in the grass with my Co-op at lunchtime, and enduring a small-scale existential crisis about almost nearing the halfway point of my college experience. Currently, none of those things are happening. Instead, after spending a semi-quarantined fall on campus, I returned home to California for Thanksgiving break and have been here ever since. 

Oberlin knew the three-semester school schedule on top of the uncertainty of COVID would create a strange year for all students. To retain some normalcy, the college set up programs we could choose to join during the months we are not enrolled. For instance, as a sophomore, I currently am not enrolled in any classes, but will go back to campus in the summer and officially finish my sophomore year in August. During my time off, I chose to join the SOAR program, designed by Oberlin specifically for sophomores. For the month of January anyone who wanted to be part of SOAR went to panels on major global issues such as gentrification, public health, or the climate crisis. We listened to speakers, and led our own discussions. Because of our positioning as second-years the program also included resume workshops, open discussions on undergraduate research, meetings with advisors and department heads, and instructions on creating a portfolio. Finally, we also formed groups to forge a solution to one of the complex problems posed earlier in the month, did research, and presented a short pitch to a panel of judges. The mixed bag of academic, entrepreneurial, and professional preparedness led to the option of a two-month part-time internship. With COVID cutting so many internships and programs short, Oberlin alumni and faculty across disciplines stepped forward to express a need for interns. 

I chose to work as an intern, but other options included taking a language course for Winter Term credit (because this spring is technically the winter term and summer of the sophomore class), doing research, or taking part in a self-directed internship. I was placed with the Allen Memorial Art Museum, and currently work on creating audio descriptions for visually impaired visitors that will be featured in the museum’s app. I’m also working on label writing, and with a team of other interns, I’m researching and writing an acquisition proposal for an artwork that could potentially become part of the Allen Memorial Art Museum’s Art Rental collection. The internship is centered around making the museum a more accessible space in all capacities, and introduces me to practical curatorial work, which aligns directly with my future aspirations of working as a museum curator. 

Beyond the internship, I’m also currently taking a French course in conversation and communication, with pandemic-riddled dreams of one day traveling again. Though I’m not getting a grade in the class because I can’t be enrolled in a classroom setting, the course is an easy way to stay connected to Oberlin and keep my week semi-structured. Though I’m not on campus, I’m still a co-chair of the Girls in Motion Exco, which is now completely online. New members join each semester, and leading the team of students has been an interesting way to meet new people at a time when no one seems to meet anyone new. 

Though not enrolled, and nowhere near Oberlin, I’ve become part of a few small communities that I really look forward to meeting with each week. Sometimes I have the same sense of running between meetings and buildings that I once felt as a student physically on campus, but I’m also learning to navigate taking on new workloads online. Though I’m miles away, working as an intern, an Exco instructor, and a student has kept the feeling of the Oberlin community alive and strong.

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