When I was a kid, I would spend most of the summer at summer camp; overnight or day camp, I did it all. This was mostly due to the fact that my parents both worked, and I couldn't stay home by myself all day. There were a few camps that I really loved and returned to year after year. Thus, camp became a significant part of my life that was just as important to me as school was. My favorites included a musical theater day camp, a rabbit farm on which I was meant to learn the harsh realties of the circle of life (but spent most of the time swimming in the reservoir), and a very California-hippie overnight camp that involved a lot of "earth art" and reading poetry in the camp garden at sunset.
Alas, I am now at the point of my life when I can stay at home alone, without supervision. However, this has done nothing to keep me away from summer camp. This summer was my second working at a day camp near my hometown. Essentially, my job involves herding a group of six- and seven-year-olds to different activities throughout the day, and serving as a teaching assistant to whichever instructor is trying to help them play Capture the Flag or make instruments out of straws and masking tape.
I had a great time working at this camp last summer, and I was eager to return. However, I wasn't sure if working at a summer camp for the second summer in a row was what I was supposed to be doing. Many of my friends, from Oberlin and other colleges, were jetting off to impressive internships in New York or Washington, D.C., that seemed like they would great on a résumé. I, too, would love to respond to the ever-irritating "What are you up to this summer?" posed by my parents' friends with something exciting like that. My summer camp job didn't sound so remarkable. The main thing that stood in my way was the fact that I wanted (and needed) to make money this summer. Having an unpaid internship, especially one far from home, wouldn't allow me to save money for my semester abroad this year.
However, I also understand that what I feel that I'm supposed to be doing based on what I see others filling their time with is a poor way to measure my own experience. This is one of the last summers of my life before I'll have a "real" job. Taking advantage of this time to have a lot of fun at camp is important to me. I had a good time hanging out with kids, and other passionate adults. It's only been a few days since camp ended, and I already miss it! Plus, I lived at home, saved money, and now feel more financially secure than I would if I didn't have any income this summer. So, I've stopped caring about whatever I was supposed to be doing this summer. I don't regret making what I think is the best decision for me.
Even though I had the same job last summer, my time away from Oberlin was definitely different. Last summer, many of my friends from home were around, and I valued the time I got to spend with them. This time around, most of them were doing aforementioned internships, or taking summer classes. Not having my old friends around wasn't so bad when I was working every day, but in the past week it's taken more of my will power to have a life, as opposed to stuffing popcorn in my mouth and pondering existential dread. Still, I've found time to savor the parts of home that I'll miss this semester; stuff like the ocean, homemade meals, and decent burritos.
With two weeks left before I fly back to Oberlin, I'm feeling very ready to return. I miss my friends, Harkness, bagels from The Local, Tappan Square, and Cat cookies. I can hardly wait. See you there!
When I was 8, and had started swimming competitively, I wasn't able to dive off the starting block no matter how hard I tried. Many different coaches worked with me many times. I have a clear memory of pulling my coach (who later ended up being my high school swim coach)'s hat off his head as I fell into the pool during one of his futile attempts to teach me how to dive. It ended up taking me almost an entire year to learn how to dive off the blocks, and even once I learned how to do it, I never seemed to be as good at it as my peers were.
This summer, I've spent my time trying to teach kids how to dive off those same blocks I struggled on over a decade ago. One of my greatest achievements of the summer was getting one of the swimmers I was coaching (who turned out to be my middle school music teacher's son) to dive off the blocks. It was easy to get frustrated when things didn't go perfectly - the pool looks a lot different when you're standing on the side than when you're on the block, so it's sometimes hard to remember that I once struggled with the same problems.
I've also taken a Chinese class this summer. Although I have taken a lot of Chinese classes at Oberlin, this one is quite different from the ones I have taken before. It's at Rutgers University, a school that is much bigger than Oberlin. It's also a night class for people who aren't necessarily students. This means that my classmates are, for the most part, much older than I am and have "actual" jobs in the "real world." I'm also the only person in the class who has never been to China (though that will be changing very, very soon). Despite all this, the class still reminds me of Oberlin, because my professor for it has the same name as the Chinese professor I've had all four semesters at Oberlin. How crazy is that?
Getting to see the same story from two different perspectives is always interesting. That's one of the reasons I enjoy hosting prospective students ("prospies") - they always have a different perspective on their experiences at Oberlin than I do, and that always makes me think about my experiences a little bit differently. This is also something I think about a lot when I am writing these blog posts. As someone who read the Oberlin blogs religiously in high school (and still does today), I often wonder if the people who read this blog perceive me in a similar way to how I perceived the bloggers whose blogs I read.
The first time I stepped foot on the Oberlin campus, I was on the look-out for people smoking. I had just visited another liberal arts school in Ohio, at which I saw a lot of students smoking, and at that point in my life, that was enough to make me completely count out any possibility of attending that school. Although I had high hopes for Oberlin (after all, I read these blogs all the time, and who couldn't want to go to Oberlin after that?), I was still worried that something like seeing too many people smoking could ruin it for me entirely. Now, after two years at Oberlin, I usually don't notice if I pass someone who is smoking. It's also not something that would bother me nearly as much anymore.
Sometimes when I walk through the Oberlin campus I think about how it looks compared to how it looked before I was a student there. I remember not being able to tell the buildings on North Quad apart, or thinking that King was the Conservatory. Originally, my view of each of the buildings around campus was based mostly on how they looked from outside. Now my view of the campus is based more on the experiences that I have had there - I think of the friends I made in Barrows, or the class I had in Severance, or the time I spent broadcasting a radio show in Wilder.
This summer has made me look at my life in New Jersey differently, and being at Oberlin for these past two years has made me look at Oberlin differently. I think that this semester, not being at Oberlin will also make me look at Oberlin differently (this might be a good time to mention that Frances and I won't be blogging from the same location this year - I'll be in China in the fall and Frances will also be abroad in the spring. I think that this will be a great opportunity to get some comparisons between Oberlin and other educational experiences available as an Oberlin student). Despite the fact that I will be on the other side of the world from Oberlin, I'm still going to be an Oberlin student while I'm there. I'll be getting Oberlin credits, blogging for Oberlin, and I am sure I will still be in contact with my friends from Oberlin. However, it will clearly be a very different "Oberlin" experience than the one that I have had so far. For one, I obviously will not be in Oberlin. I also won't be with any other Oberlin students. All my classes will be in Chinese, and I'll have a Chinese roommate - two situations that I have not experienced at Oberlin.
Ultimately, I'm glad that this summer has given me a new take on my hometown, and I am excited for China to give me a new take on Oberlin. I hope that everyone reading this post gets a chance to develop their own unique perspective of Oberlin. I'm sure it won't be the same as mine - or anyone else's, for that matter.
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