Your first semester away at college is a daunting thought. As a kid from southern California, going to school thousands of miles away from home terrified me to my core. Like every student before me, I knew I would miss my family, my friends, and most importantly, my cats. The idea of having to form all new relationships, while exciting, was still anxiety-inducing. Somehow, though—by sheer willpower and a little divine grace—I managed to survive and come out on top. And if I, some random stranger on the internet, can do it blindly, then surely you can as well. Just in case, though, I would like to propose a noncomprehensive list of tips, tricks, and advice I have based on my own experiences for the next set of first-years.
- Talk to everyone! The first epiphany I had at Oberlin was that everyone else was just as desperate for friendship and company as I was: all it took was to initiate the conversation. There are so many kinds of conversation starters to try, too, like running up to every student wearing an Oberlin sweatshirt and saying, “Oh my god, you go to Oberlin, too? That is so crazy!” Sit with random people at dinner. Compliment every person you see. Before no time, you will have familiar faces everywhere you go. While an intimidating task, I have found most students at Oberlin to be warm and welcoming. It doesn’t hurt to have multiple friend groups, either, and so the more people you know, the more possible friends you have available.
- Learn to be okay with bugs. On move-in day, it seemed an ant colony had found my room before I did. The theme of constant bugs has never subsided. I shower every morning with the daddy long legs who lives above the spout. I walk to class to the hum of crickets and cicadas who keep their music on repeat. I eat my meals with a halo of yellow jackets who just want a taste of my salad dressing. The Oberlin campus is one with nature itself, and wildlife is a part of that experience. I suggest one learn to embrace it like I have. I somehow made it a full semester without getting stung!
- Don’t save your laundry for the weekends. Everyone saves their laundry for the weekends. The washers take half an hour per load, and the dryers take a full 60 minutes; it only gets worse if it’s crowded. If your schedule can manage it, try to squeeze your laundry into a weeknight, when the machines are more readily available. When you finally get a machine, make sure you keep an eye on the clock. Set a timer for when the machine will be done, and don’t drag your feet about it. No one else knows how long your laundry has been sitting there. They only see zero minutes left on the timer and your finished load taking up space. Some people will not hesitate to dump your wet clothes out to put theirs in, which can mildew fast and ruin your clothes. Laundry is cutthroat. Don’t forget that.
- It is okay to cry. Everyone cracks at some point. Exactly a week after my move-in day, I saw the same dog breed as my baby back home walking in Tappan Square (the big park at the center of campus), and I bawled like a child that whole night. Homesickness is not a disease, and it is not a weakness. You are going to miss home, and that’s okay. Let it out when it arrives, and walk lighter the next day. For me personally, it took about a month of living on campus to be fully adjusted to my new, independent lifestyle, and aside from a few road bumps along the way, I have been thriving.
- Make friends in Kahn. Kahn Hall is one of the newer First Year Residential Experience halls on campus with a concentration on sustainable living habits, and it is gorgeous. With multiple kitchens and living rooms on each floor, a game room, a built-in gym, and an aerobics studio, students living in Kahn really have everything they could ask for. It is built directly next to Stevenson, one of the main dining halls on campus, as well. While not everyone can live in Kahn (I’m housed in North Hall myself), everyone can have a friend who will let them hang out.
- Try the shuttle to Walmart on Saturdays! Every Saturday around 2:00 pm at Wilder Hall, a shuttle bus will take students across town to Walmart for a four dollars fare. While many shops and restaurants are within walking distance from the campus, none hold the corporate power or inventory of Walmart. My friends and I went one of the first weekends on campus to gather baking supplies for a batch of chocolate chip cookies. It was an intimate journey across town that I recommend everyone tries at least once.
- Ask to pet strangers’ pets! Whether it’s a fellow student or a local community member, all sorts of people use the campus at large as a place to walk their canine companions. I have even seen cats on strolls! Animals are therapeutic and relieve stress, and while I do not have a pet of my own on campus with me, I have seen plenty of students who do. Occasionally, there will be on-campus events where people from the town will bring their pets on campus to play with the college students, which is always sweet. Ginko Gallery on Main Street even houses stray kittens in the backroom that the students are allowed to visit and play with until their eventual adoptions. All you have to do is walk up to the woman at the counter and ask if you can see the kittens! There are also a number of feral cats around campus and the town, such as Finney who lives by Finney Chapel, although these cats should be mostly left to themselves.
- Keep an eye out for Yeobie (they/them), the albino squirrel. It’s true: Yeobie exists. I have seen them with my own eyes several times now. A Yeobie sighting is an omen of good fortune. Often found in Tappan Square frolicking in the grass, they are surprisingly hard to miss when you pass by. Yeobie is like a great uniting force on campus. Students like to keep score of how many times they have seen them over the years (I saw that a girl in Burton recorded thirty-five and counting on her door), so stay on the lookout!
- Start exploring the town of Oberlin early. While Oberlin may be a small town, it can feel surprisingly big, especially when you don’t have a car. There are some really neat stores just on Main Street, like Mad Cow or Ratsy’s (which both sell unusual, vintage curiosities and clothing). The first time you step into Watson’s Hardware Store, you will be shocked by how huge it actually is inside, despite looking so compact from the street. And beyond there, the town is yours to discover. On walks, I have come across farmers markets, befriended local cats, and found some of my favorite spots, like the park on Groveland Street or the cemetery. I have even heard rumors of a haunted bridge somewhere in town, although I have yet to see it with my own eyes. It is next on my list.
- Actually read the Campus Digest. Every morning at 7:30 A.M. EST, Oberlin students receive the Campus Digest in their email inboxes, which is a small newsletter full of teacher profiles, campus news, and weekly events. I like to read it first thing in the morning, as it gives me an excuse to spend a few more minutes in bed, but it is brimming with useful information that Oberlin students need to know. For example, a few weeks ago, the newsletter mentioned how all of the bathrooms in Mudd (the main student library) were closed for a few days, which is vital information for those who like to study in Mudd and also pee on occasion. There are often COVID-19 updates, advertisements for student performances, and so much more. The Campus Digest is such a useful tool for keeping you aware of what is going on around you, so make sure you utilize it.
- Go to on-campus events. This one mostly speaks for itself, but I will speak for it, too. Most departments on campus host events for students of a particular major or interest to get together, such as the Creative Writing Department hosting professional readings or the English Department with movie nights. I personally believe the Classics Department holds the best events (like field trips to the Cleveland Art Museum and free opera tickets), and that is a hill I am prepared to die on. These are great opportunities to meet other people with the same interests as you or more generally just get out and do something. You don't necessarily have to be a part of that particular major to attend their events either, so crash every event you can! There are so many other nonacademic events, too, like weekly themed dance parties at the ‘Sco (Oberlin’s on-campus club, formally called the Dionysus Disco), student operas, and concerts. Earlier in the semester, John Waters (Google him, it would take too long) came to visit and performed a stand-up show at the Apollo Theater (the local movie theater on College Street), which was surreal. There is always something going on.
- North Hall has entirely private bathrooms. While I have not seen every bathroom in the building, every bathroom on the first floor, at least, is a single with one toilet and one shower. I know how anxiety-inducing public restrooms can be, especially for those who are nonbinary or gender-nonconforming, and while it may be unrealistic to run across campus everytime you need to pee, I figured I would put it out there. They are really nice bathrooms, too.
As I said before, this list is nowhere near comprehensive. These are just some of the things I realized along my way or wish I had known sooner. Although, I must admit, part of the fun has been figuring everything out on my own. College is meant to be a first step into adulthood while still having a safety net, and finding my way along through trial and error has really empowered my sense of independence. As of right now, I could not imagine living on another campus. After only one semester, Oberlin already feels like home (even if I shower with bugs), and I can’t wait to get back on campus for Winter Term.
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