It's a phrase I heard a lot before I began my studies at Oberlin. I come from a small, fairly insular community in Massachusetts that people seldom leave. When they do leave, they don't go far. But my small town is also filled with really supportive people, and they all wanted to talk to me about where I was headed off to college. My answer, of course: Oberlin. Their response:
"Ohio, near Cleveland."
"Ohio? Oh, ok..."
In my hometown, both Ohio and the Midwest are stigmatized to such an extent that I began to doubt my own college decision. There, capital was placed on staying close. I knew Oberlin was a great place, but I worried could location alone ruin my college experience? Everyone seems apathetic, and, I mean, Ohio is kinda Republican and open-carry...
My initial perception of Ohio
I decided to do a little math (for once in my life) and I calculated that just about half of the students from my high school who went to college attended an institution in-state. Seems reasonable, but then I discovered that 83% of my class went on to attend college in the Northeast, within a six-hour radius. I attribute this to two things: There are simply a lot of good, attractive colleges in the Northeast, and many students these days opt to attend a state university to save on tuition costs. There aren't many reasons to leave, so why do so? I happened to know that Oberlin was the right place for me, so I was more than happy to make the journey.
And it was that journey, that twelve-hour lope through upstate New York and Pennsylvania and finally Ohio, that lent credence to all that they said. Fields, fields, fields, ALL I SAW WAS FIELDS. Am I about to be educated in a field? I thought. I had been to campus once before, for All Roads, but we weren't there long and I didn't really get a great look. But when I got to campus, it didn't feel like a stereotypical image of Ohio at all. Like not even a little bit. It felt like one of those myriad northeastern schools where my family was educated, just... in Ohio.
Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH
The Diamond Building, Colby College, Waterville, ME
The Oberlin "bubble" is a figurative, but very real, phenomenon that all Obies come to know intimately. It was not until my first bike ride to Walmart and Goodwill, a few weeks into the semester, when I began to internalize exactly what it meant, solidifying how I felt before: the campus bewitches you into thinking you are somewhere very, very different from where you actually are.
Riding on the shoulder of Route 58, I witnessed the stark contrast of a more or less idyllic college town with (more!) fields and fields. The Oberlin campus is imbued with distinctly northeastern sensibilities; from my dorm room, the immediate surrounding area is as emotionally inaccessible as it was from my bedroom in Massachusetts.
And this shouldn't be surprising. Oberlin was founded by people from the Northeast on land owned by other people from the Northeast. As we all know, it is a very liberal campus, and over two thirds of its student body hail from the east or west coast. According to Jason Diamond at Flavorwire, "Oberlin is the perfect school for city kids that want to try something different."
Lena Dunham '08, a city kid who loves to try new things!
But the Oberlin bubble is a double-edged sword. Despite Oberlin's Ohio location, only 8% of students come from the great OH. It's easy to live inside this bubble and forget about the outside world, but there is a huge amount of value to be derived from leaving campus every once in a while. We all didn't come here to sit in a dorm room or a lecture hall all the time, we came to experience something different from what we were used to.
So my recommendation is simple: Go! Go anywhere! Go to DrugMart or Walmart or IGA or CVS! Hell, if you find a car, go to Pittsburgh or Cincinnati! I'm not saying skip out on the tremendous value of Oberlin College, I'm saying leverage the unique geographical, architectural, social, educational, and ideological stew that is Oberlin. Make the most of being in a place that you never would have wound up otherwise. Maybe you'll find your spiritual inner Ohioan...