Ten Things I Wish I'd Known: Outside the Classroom
If you haven't already read Part I: Inside The Classroom, please do! Feel free to leave any comments or suggestions that I can add. And please read Christine's own lovely post which has some similar pearls of wisdom. (:
- It's okay not to find your Best Friends For Life straightaway.
Your friendships will change; some will last and some won't. I'm still friends with the first few people I met at Oberlin, but my closest friends are the ones I met a few weeks or months later. Keep in touch with your old friends, but don't let it get in the way of making new ones--Oberlin has a fascinating and diverse student body and you'll miss out if you don't take advantage of it. Get to know people now: join the Class of '15 Facebook page and start chatting to people! When you find out who you're rooming with, look for them on Facebook or Skype and strike up a conversation. Or send them a short introductory 'hello' to their Oberlin email. You never know what you might have in common, and you'll already know someone before you even get there.
- If you and your roommate(s) don't hit it off immediately, don't panic.
You're NOT the exception to the rule. Most roommates hit it off really well at Oberlin, but not always. I desperately wish someone had told me that beforehand. I had all sorts of wild fantasies about being best friends with my roommate and was quite disappointed when it turned out that we were just very different people. It took me a while to realise that I really wasn't the only one. In my experience, the single best thing you can do is to be honest with yourself and your roommate(s) about your living habits. It's hard when you've never lived on your own before, but try to think of some patterns you've developed and ways to reasonably accommodate them. For example: I like studying in my room, at a desk; I need total silence when I read; I like having friends in my room to keep me company. My roommate, however, studied mostly at the library and liked to Skype at night. Since I couldn't work when she was Skyping and she couldn't sleep when my friends were being loud at night, we made a rule that we would have more or less total silence by midnight. If I needed to do a big chunk of reading, I would wake up around 7 in the morning and do it while she was sleeping.
In other words, be prepared for compromise but don't be a doormat. Living with other people is just a case of give and take, and it's a great skill to learn, but if it still doesn't work out, move on to something new. Don't stress out--there are lots of awesome people here and you'll meet someone new soon enough who you can room with next year.
- It's okay to be homesick.
Let me repeat that: it's okay to be homesick. Missing your friends and especially your family is not a crime. I left Singapore with every intention not to miss this place at all, which was naive to say the least, because coming back has been the most refreshing and relaxing thing I've done. I couldn't wait to get out and start living exactly the way I wanted to without my parents to dictate how. I convinced myself that if I kept in contact with my friends and family on a regular basis, I'd hardly miss them. Boy, was I ever wrong. For me, it started with food--my mother is a brilliant cook, and nothing I ate ever seemed to live up to her standards. (That was until I discovered Shabbat dinner on Friday nights at the Kosher-Halal Co-op.) Then it was distance; it didn't really hit me how much I relied on my parents for their quiet, unassuming company until my friends started going home on weekends when they were stressed out, and I wished so badly that going home didn't require a 30-hour trip across the planet. Be excited about living on your own, but keep in contact with the people you leave behind; contrary to what they might say to your face, they miss you just as much as you miss them.
- College is a support system. Be proud of yourself and of those around you.
Ma'ayan said it best: "There's a good chance your peers will do great things and/or become famous one day. You'll be able to say that you knew them in college! THAT'S SUPER COOL! That said, don't get intimidated or starstruck if your friends do great things while in college. Hug them, high five them, and be inspired by them."
- There is a lot of junk food, and it is bad for you.
Staying healthy in college is hard. It's a lot easier to hole yourself up in your room and eat ramen for days--I speak from experience, to my parents' horror. There are so many different ways to eat healthily at Oberlin, though it may not seem like it. Apart from places like Stevie and Dascomb which have great salad bars, vegan and vegetarian options and fresh fruits, there are also the co-ops, fresh sandwiches and salads at Decafe, and lots of restaurants downtown. You can even cook in the kitchens. You don't need to count calories in order to be healthy; just have a balanced diet rather than a fried food/ramen subsistence diet. Also, stock up on (healthy) snacks, because you will get, as Paolo puts it, "weird hunger pangs at 3am". Your roommate will not appreciate you stealing from their food stash in the middle of the night.
- Living in the cold for the first time is challenging, but not impossible.
This is for anyone who, like me, has lived in the tropics for most of their life. As you may have noticed, I experienced snow for the first time a few months back. I was terrified of what the winter would be like; just ask my parents. I'd literally never been below freezing temperature in my life, and I didn't even know what a down coat was until I had to buy one in November last year. Thankfully, I had my aunt and my brother around to guide me through that process. I'm going to write a longer post about this, but I will say that the single most important thing I learnt about surviving cold weather is this: it's really cold outside, and really warm inside. If you wear too many layers, you will end up perspiring too much, and that's really dangerous when you're back outside again. Balance layering with one really warm article of clothing like a down jacket or a waterproof, fleece-lined jacket. Also, it gets icy, so make sure you've got a good pair of boots. And stay tuned for my cold weather post. (:
- Oberlin weather is just generally really, really weird.
I'm not even talking about crazy cold winters. See, unlike my brother, I actually like cooler temperatures; I only start getting unhappy when it drops below freezing point and stays there for too long. Maybe I've just lived in Singapore for too long, where a "change in weather" means rain instead of sunshine. Seriously, though, I have never lived in a place with more mercurial weather: one day it's sunny and beautiful and 20°C/70°F, then suddenly you get hit by torrential downpour and then the next thing you know it's snowing. In April. In other words, get into the habit of checking the temperature before you leave your room. One great thing about having an iPod touch and wireless across campus means I can check the weather at any time...and I check incessantly. Just because it was warm yesterday absolutely does not guarantee that it won't be freezing tomorrow. I cannot tell you the number of times I updated my Facebook status saying "SPRING IS FINALLY HERE!" only to have it snow the next day.
- When it comes to storage, the early bird really does get the worm.
Even if you only bring/buy the bare essentials, there will still inevitably be things that you can't fit into your suitcase, like a fan or your comforter and pillows. That's okay. For those of you who can drive home, you're lucky; you could probably rent a van if you really have a lot of stuff. For those like Tess and me who have to fly back home, however, you will need to be proactive about storage. Every student is entitled to store three big standard-sized UPS boxes on-campus for free. You can get free irregular-sized ones at Ben Franklin if you ask for them, but if you really need the space I'd say buying them and reusing them every year is a decent investment. If you know you need to store more than that or you have items that won't fit, like an expensive fan, you can rent off-campus storage containers. People start renting very early, so get on it as soon as possible. Get together with some friends to share the costs because I sincerely doubt you will need the whole space; take turns driving back your stuff back and forth. If you get desperate, you can always ask a friend who's driving back home to take some of your stuff with you. Whatever you do, make sure you keep track of what you've stored, and where you stored it. Most importantly, start thinking about it as soon as possible.
- Take ALL the photos. (And by that we just mean lots.)
Extra points if you got the Hyperbole and a Half reference (: As Ma'ayan says, "You can't go back, and there's a good chance you'll want to remember everything, especially moments of calm/hanging out." Better still, take a photography class and learn how to really use a film or digital camera--studio classes are time-consuming, but there's no better way to learn how to take good photos and these are skills you will keep for life. And it's a great reason to explore Oberlin, too! You'll thank yourself later when you can literally look back and see the first time you were in snow, your first Halloween in Oberlin, what your room looked like back then and so on.
- College is a lot of responsibility.
Seriously. You have to manage your money (read a really great post by Tess on this), take care of yourself, do your own grocery shopping (even if that just means ramen from the new Korean place) and file taxes--that was the weirdest thing I ever had to do. Suddenly I was an Adult, because only Adults do Adult Things like Taxes. I didn't even know how to write a cheque before I got to college. Thankfully, I had my parents to show me and a bank that took pity on me when I still got it wrong.
And that's everything! Thanks again to everyone who contributed, especially Ma'ayan, Boss Extraordinaire, who helped me through every step of this post and contributed many of the great points here. Hope this helps people, and if there's anything you think I missed, please do let me know!