Oberlin Blogs

When Having Fun Isn't Fun

April 2, 2017

El Wilson ’18

I haven't been in Oberlin, Ohio, for more than three months. I haven't gone that long without wheeling through Tappan Square since before freshman orientation. It's really weird. I'm currently studying "abroad" at Gallaudet University. Gallaudet is a university in Washington, DC, primarily for Deaf students. Even though I'm not out of the United States, my study away program works the same way as any other study abroad program. I filled out all of the same paperwork, my credits transfer the same way, and I'm paying Oberlin the same way.

I came to Gallaudet to improve my American Sign Language (ASL). For those of you who haven't read my previous posts (here's a link), I've been learning ASL in one way or another ever since I took the ASL Exco second semester of my first year at Oberlin. Spending a semester at Gallaudet was a way for me to be fully immersed in the language. All of my classes are taught in ASL, and I'm taking an ASL class. Most of my friends here are Deaf, so we use ASL to communicate with each other. I've never learned so much ASL so quickly.

But it hasn't been easy. Gallaudet is not Oberlin. The culture is completely different. Gender is far more binary. People barely eat any kale. And, most importantly, students are far less busy. Gallaudet is not nearly as academically rigorous as Oberlin, and students are not involved in a million different extra curricular activities. People actually sleep here.

It's currently about 2pm on a Sunday, and I've finished all of my homework. The only plan I have for the rest of the day is to go to a Buddhist gathering. That's it. If I were at Oberlin right now, I would be sitting in Mudd Library with my nose crammed in a book reading something that I was supposed to have read two weeks ago. I would be juggling my schoolwork with a job and my life as a co-oper. I would be exhausted, stressed, and jittery from too much caffeine.

I should be thrilled that I'm well rested, relaxed, and have the rest of the day to do whatever I want. But I'm not. Ever since I announced that I would be studying away this semester, I've felt this immense pressure to be having fun all of the time. Everyone, from upperclassmen at Oberlin to my own mother, told me that studying away would be the best time of my life. According to everyone, my classwork would be easier, and I would just be able to have fun, experience new things, and learn the language. The problem with all of these predictions was that they were based on a traditional study away experience. Most people who study away really do go abroad. They are in a program with other American students who they quickly befriend. I was alone. Everyone here knows the language much better than I do. There is no one here who really understands my experience.

My first month at Gallaudet was terrible. My ASL wasn't nearly good enough to be able to actually make friends. I couldn't distract myself through homework. There wasn't enough of it. Instead, I just missed Oberlin constantly. Eventually, I decided I had to figure out something to do, so I committed to watching all of the Best Picture nominations before the Oscars premiered. (By the way, Moonlight was my top pick for the most important/revolutionary, but Arrival was the most genius and entertaining.) It was a good decision. It gave me an excuse to leave my dorm and explore DC. It made me feel productive.

As my ASL improved, life became easier. I was able to actually make friends and understand some of what was being discussed in class. I don't feel like a complete outcast anymore. My ASL is good enough that I know what people are saying around the dinner table. Yesterday, my roommate and I went to the zoo. It was a total blast! I got to see pandas! Plus, now that the weather is more consistently warm, there are even more places in DC I want to explore.

This doesn't mean that the challenges are over. I'm not used to this laid-back lifestyle. I feel aimless. I used to think the perpetual state of sheer panic that plagues my time at Oberlin was unhealthy. Now, I realize that I need that. I need to be stressed or I get bored. I like being anxious.

I have about five weeks left at Gallaudet. I want to make the most out of every second so that I leave here with my ASL being as good as it possibly can be. I am going to appreciate the warm weather and my new friends and the fact that I can communicate so easily here. But I get to register for next semester's classes this week. I've never been so excited to log onto Presto in my life.

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