Anne Hoffman ’08
“I spent mornings at Black River, nursing coffee and developing an addiction from which I have no intention of recovering. I read political theory that made my brain feel like it was on fire. I read Chaucer in the original Middle English.”
Oberlin, for me, was a process. It was a spiral of self-creation and subsequent self-transformation; of leaving home to find myself and understanding what home means. It was where I learned that there is a thing in this world called fluidity; that rigid notions about who we are and where we come from don’t make sense.
When I began my first year at Oberlin, I was a kid.
Oberlin was a shock. It was flat and rained all the time. I found home—in a suburb of Washington, D.C.—extremely hard to reconcile with the small town I lived in. Eventually things fell into place. I spent mornings at Black River, nursing coffee and developing an addiction from which I have no intention of recovering. I read political theory that made my brain feel like it was on fire. I read Chaucer in the original Middle English. I met my best friend Jake, and I had my first real relationship.
Still, I lacked focus. Oberlin and its incredible resources were all around me, but I didn’t quite know how to utilize them in a meaningful way.
In my junior year, I decided to learn Spanish. I spent that January in Guadalajara on an Oberlin program. A woman named Carmen welcomed me into her home and gave me my first taste of the vastness of Latin culture: the endless generosity of Mexican mothers; the heat that fills your skin and stays for hours after you’ve returned inside; the Castilian universe. Throughout that month I suffered food poisoning and loneliness, but something inside of me was breaking. That vision of who I was with my romantic partner, my unfocused academic self, was crumbling.
I returned to Oberlin renewed. I joined Old Barrows cooperative and thrived in that warm social space and open community. I studied Spanish with a passion. I formed new friendships and began to enjoy the omnipresent Ohio rain.
Although I had little academic background in Spanish, professors and students were very supportive. I began to attend events at the Casa Hispanica, watch Almodovar films, and learn about bilingualism. Studying Spanish, for me, was like coming home. I often find English, a language I intimately understand, oppressive. Every word is loaded with some cultural significance. Spanish, on the other hand, feels new. And yet, because I grew up listening to Latino friends and neighbors speaking Castilian, there is a piece of myself in it. Spanish has given me freedom and Oberlin gave me the tools and resources to access it.
Because of my experience in Guadalajara, I continued to travel. I spent that summer living with a host family in Southern France. I went to Ireland, my mother’s ancestral home, by myself. It was lonely and it rained, like in Oberlin. But it was my choice and I did it in my own way.
The next semester I lived in Chile. I dared. I challenged my notion of who I was. I ate mayonnaise at every meal and laughed about it. I traveled 15,000 feet above sea-level to soak in some hot-springs and observe the llamas in a National Park. I learned to speak Spanish for real.
I find it ironic that someone so attached to her roots is such an avid traveler. Oberlin was the perfect middle ground, the right launching pad between my childhood home and far-off journeys. Ultimately the voyage has been an interior one, as I continue to more intimately understand who I am with each new experience. My life is textured and although at times I feel lost in translation, Oberlin allowed me to find home.
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