Oberlin Blogs

On the In-State Experience

December 30, 2023

Kate Magnacca ’26

In college, people always ask the same four questions upon first meeting: name, pronouns, where you're from, and major. When we get to the dreaded hometown part, I always have a great sigh, followed by an apologetic and exasperated mutter of “Ohio.'. In return I receive sympathy or an immediate “yikes,” often both. Ohio gets a lot of hate, from myself included, but my time at Oberlin has changed my tune on it.

It’s important to note that Oberlin is a very special case. I’ve spent a fair amount of time now in what most refer to as the “Oberlin bubble,” and often have to remind myself of this. It's become my default shockingly fast, despite having grown up in less progressive areas. I spent most of my life in Westerville, a quaint suburb of Columbus. Then a couple years in Zanesville, which is a very complicated bubble of its own. I’ve spent time in Millersport, Lancaster, and Johnstown. Then, of course, Oberlin. I lived in Cleveland last summer. Back in my dance days, I went to competitions in Youngstown, Cincinnati, Toledo, and all manner of other random cities. I’ve seen a lot of this state and spent a lot of time on its freeways.

What I’ve learned from all of this is quite an obvious conclusion: that Ohio is a large and therefore varied place. Yet if I told my high school self I would go to a school in the middle of Ohio farmland (in Ohio, period), she would have laughed in my face. I saw it in one light only: the town I went to high school in, which is one of the most conservative places I can imagine.

Although I loved some aspects of my school, that town was not a safe place for many. It’s pretty widely acknowledged as running somewhat behind the rest of the world. I saw where some of Ohio’s worst stereotypes originated. I began to think of the whole state in that way. Come senior year, I was counting down the days until I could pack my bags and say goodbye to Ohio. I did all the obligatory visits to in-state schools, because in-state is often more affordable. During my visits to other colleges here, I started to see some towns that were vastly different from my high school town, and my opinion of Ohio colleges softened a little. I remembered the better aspects of my hometown, and the beauty to be found here. I began appreciating the nature and the seasons and the quiet of it all. But I did not want to end up in-state. Still, as we all know, my road did end up leading to Oberlin.

Yes, it’s in Ohio, but it doesn’t feel like it (or at least, the bad parts of OH). Like I said, the bubble is special. There’s just no place like it. It’s progressive enough that, in the political and social sense, campus feels more akin to New York or San Francisco. It’s not what I expected from an Ohio school-- queer-friendly, diverse, and bursting with life. There’s also quite a lot to do if you look for it. You get the benefit of a small-town feel, that sense of community and closeness I was looking for in a college; but without the suffocating feeling that usually accompanies rural areas. Our proximity to Cleveland helps a lot with that. Campus is small enough that I always feel supported, and am likely to run into people while out, but big enough that I can go hermit-mode when I want to. And perhaps my favorite part of being on campus has to do with this closeness-- I love knowing the dining hall employees by name, running into friends and having my day brightened when I’m not expecting it, and living in a building with so many friendly faces. It also makes speaking up in class a lot easier when you're likely to recognize a lot of your classmates.

As far as the distance aspect, my original horror at the prospect of a mere two hour drive is totally gone. It’s actually perfect-- far enough away to feel separate from home, close enough to be able to visit when I need to. It makes it easy for my parents to drive up for a spontaneous day trip, easy for my hometown friends to come support the shows I do. In retrospect, I don’t think going across the country would have been quite as easy as I imagined it to be-- trying to pack everything in a suitcase and carry-on would have gotten extremely ugly. Many zippers and suitcases would have met untimely ends due to too many old-man sweaters being stuffed in. Another thing that I hadn’t originally thought of is that this distance is a large part of what allows me to have an ESA-- so if you might want one, keep this in mind. Every break and every summer I’m relieved that my drive is so mercifully short, whereas my friends have to face the hassle of expensive plane tickets or long drives.

Everything I thought I hated about this state really only applies to certain areas. It’s important to know which areas you feel comfortable in, of course, which just takes some awareness and forethought. Just don’t let the “Ohio” part of “Oberlin, Ohio” scare you off. If you are from here, I can almost guarantee it’s nothing like whatever part of Ohio you’re from. Give it a visit and see. You don’t have to leave the state to find the right school-- take it from your number one Ohio-hater who also happens to fiercely adore Oberlin.

Similar Blog Entries