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Underrated Aspects of Oberlin

April 8, 2020

Charlize Villasenor ’23

Obies and Obies-to-be, I hope y’all are doing well. As admissions season rolls around, I see my friends posting which schools they were accepted to and which schools they plan to spend the next few years at, and it makes me reminisce on my high school years. If I’m being completely honest, Oberlin wasn’t on my radar until my senior year. Most people from my city stay in Texas and go to various schools within Texas. In the beginning, I thought staying in Texas was a likely part of my future; the only states other than Texas I had considered were Arizona and New Mexico, so they were still nearby. As I got closer to senior year, I realized that even though the majority of my peers were staying close to home, I didn’t have to. I’ve always wanted to see different parts of the country, and not necessarily the glamorous big cities, just the country in general. All I knew was El Paso and I wanted to know more. 

So I began my search for some smaller schools and what they offered. The best pieces of advice I’ve been given are, “You’ll know how well a school fits you when you visit,” and, “You’ll always end up where you need to be,” and these both still hold true. To address the first piece of advice, I know that with coronavirus it’s been particularly difficult to visit schools and that virtual tours aren’t the same as being on campus, but what can be done? Even though I visited Oberlin through the Multicultural Visit Program during my senior year, there’s only so many experiences that can be stuffed into three days. Compared to other campuses I was able to go to, I just felt safe and at home at Oberlin. Yes, I felt physically safe and walked around campus after dark with no worries, but I also felt emotionally safe. I felt that I could get to know others, get to know unfamiliar material, and more without judgement, which was a major deciding factor for me. I didn’t want to be intimidated at my own school, and I’ve always felt that Oberlin has made space for open conversation without that fear of intimidation. That experience is what led me to choose Oberlin and is how I initially knew that Oberlin is where I needed to be. I definitely hope that visiting students are able to get as much out of Oberlin as I got, but that isn’t always the case, especially when pressed for time. I’ve grown to love different aspects of Oberlin overtime that I wasn’t able to appreciate during my visit.

Red brick building with snow falling First, the seasons are beautiful! I’ve never lived in a place where it snows much (if at all) and the leaves back home don’t change from green to orange or red. Arriving on campus in late August, I expected the weather to be miserably humid and hot, but it was just warm enough to enjoy wearing shorts and hanging out with some friends under the shade of a tree. (Remember that I come from the Chihuahuan Desert, folks.) Though fall came sooner than I was used to, I was able to appreciate the changing of the leaves and well-loved sweater weather. I was able to try local apple cider for the first time and quickly fell in love with fall at Oberlin. As winter came, I learned to love hot drinks. You could catch me drinking either a Chai Latte, hot tea, or coffee from Azzy’s whenever you saw me. The little things like this and the crunching of snow under my boots was what I looked forward to every day. I've added a few photos of Oberlin during the winter (including the first snow and views from my dorm) because I just love the snow that much. For those of you who aren’t too fond of snow, be glad to know that the grass is still green under the snow and Oberlin does a great job of putting down salt on the sidewalk. Trust me when I say you get used to the weather, but it’s still important to invest in a coat. I was wearing shorts in 50 degree weather at Oberlin, but now that I've gotten used to the weather here at home, I put on a hoodie when the weather drops below 65 degrees. I’m excited to experience the coming of spring next year, but through the entire year, Oberlin is a beautiful place.Talcott building covered in snow

Second, the campus is small enough that you don’t really need a car if you live on campus or in the town. I’m not exaggerating when I say Oberlin is the perfect size. It’s not a five-minute walk from one end of campus to the other, so you don’t feel squashed, but there’s also no need to drive anywhere on campus. The only place my friends and I will regularly drive to is Walmart, which is a five-minute drive away. Every location is close enough, but not too close. There’s enough of the town that there’s room to explore what lies off campus, and Cleveland is nearby if you want to go into the city, but I’m content with the size of Oberlin. I never feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed, but perfectly content instead. 

Third, the buildings are beautiful and unique. As weird as it might sound, I love that all the restrooms have a different feel to them. The restrooms in the basement of Peters Hall make me feel like I’m in an old French film; the restrooms in North dorm have the feel of a particularly nice hotel; the restrooms on the third floor of King building have a beautiful view with their large windows. Most students have a favorite building and a reason for favoring it. Mine is easily King building with the large windows and the view of Tappan, but I appreciate the uniqueness of each building, its history, and what it has to offer. My (close) second favorite building is Fairchild Chapel. No matter if you’re a religious person or not, the stained glass windows, the many lesser-known rooms, and the organ upstairs will attract anyone. I personally go to mass every week and am grateful I get to attend at such a stunning chapel. 

Finally, I love being away from home. I know that for many students, especially those who are people of color, first-generation, or low-income, leaving home is a decision that has many implications and is a large part in deciding where to attend college. I love El Paso and will always miss home, but leaving Texas is one of the best decisions (if not the absolute best) that I’ve ever made. Granted, it’s not always easy, but it is definitely worth it. It won’t be partying or getting brunch every weekend, but being away from home allows you to get to know yourself in a way like no other. You learn to challenge yourself and figure out how to start living on your own. I’ve bettered my communication skills, time management, and much more. When your parents aren’t there to tell you what to do, you begin to appreciate the habits they created in your life, whether it’s exercising regularly, deep cleaning every weekend, or something entirely different. Living on campus creates a safety net to catch you if things start to go wrong, but it also facilitates a space where you can become your own person. Being away from family is the most challenging yet rewarding experience I’ve ever had.

view from window of a snow covered dormThere’s much more I could say about Oberlin (and I probably will in another blog post), but these are some of the most important things I want high school seniors to consider about Oberlin before they make their decisions. If you’re reading this, hopefully you’ve chosen (or will choose) Oberlin and are 100% sure Oberlin is where you want to be, but if there’s any doubt in your mind, remember that you’ll always end up where you need to be. If I asked fifteen-year-old me where I thought I’d be, Oberlin probably would not have been the answer, but now I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I'm wishing y’all well during these trying times, and I hope to see y’all on campus in the fall!

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