Oberlin Blogs

Sand to Snow: the West Coast to Midwest transition

May 5, 2008

Alice Ollstein ’10

Everyone asks about the weather first, as if I'm some orchid that will wither in cold climates. "How do you SURVIVE?" While that aspect has taken some getting used to (it's worse when my family calls in February to tell me, "It's pretty cold here too...about 50 degrees!"), it has been exciting to experience actual seasons. You know, spring, summer, fall, and winter. Not the California seasons of summer, summer, earthquake, and summer. Here I get a huge kick out of watching the leaves turn red and golden in the fall, seeing snow blanket the ground all winter, and watching the magnolia tree outside my window explode into blooms in spring. It helps me keep track of time and keeps my semesters from feeling like one big blur. Also, it's a lot easier to hole up and write an essay all weekend when it's blizzarding outside. I'm going crazy right now trying to study for finals with the sunshine tempting me to throw out my books and play. I don't know how people who stay in California for college manage to ever get any work done!

But weather is just one of many differences, and as the prospie who asked me to write this noted, it was somewhat of a culture shock. However, small town life has treated me well. It's refreshing to go into a store downtown and have the saleslady ask you, "What can I do for you, dear?" Back in L.A. it would be more like, "What do YOU want?" It's also been great to get involved in town life. Through the campus newspaper, I've become friends with the mayor and some council members, not to mention local business owners and activists. There's the stereotype that college students don't care about the community around them, because they're just going to leave in four years, but Oberlin students defy that by teaching in local schools, volunteering, voting, and attending community meetings and events. I don't think I would get this great experience in a big, impersonal city.

As for stuff to do, never fear. The hardest thing every weekend is deciding what to do, because there are always a million concerts, plays, lectures, and performances to attend, and unlike L.A. they're all cheap or free! Check out the events calendar if you don't believe me.

And though this is the midwest, Oberlin College and the surrounding town are quite liberal and funky. Being from Santa Monica, I was somewhat prepared for having a ton of hippie classmates, and I've been having a ton of fun seeing people dress crazily, play silly pranks, and generally push boundaries. But activism is also really big, and people regularly organize protests and information sessions regarding the issues that move them. And while California state schools have mostly Californian student bodies, I've met people here from all over the country and all over the world. Oberlin is truly an international hub.

Also, while I originally thought I would run home on every break, I found that from Oberlin it's easy to drive to lots of amazing places--New York, Boston, Chicago, Toronto--and I've ended up rarely going back to California. In general, I urge all you west coasters to think outside the beach and outside your comfort zone. Think how much more you'll appreciate the climate when you return!

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