The Oberlin Stories Project

On being an international student at Oberlin

Chetan Poudel ’14

“The international student orientation days always come to mind as serving as the springboard that launched me headfirst into the charms of Oberlin’s diverse and global connections.”

A group of friends, all smiling

I vividly remember the early days of pre-orientation, which was hosted by Oberlin’s Office of International Students. It was the day after I had arrived in the United States after a string of international flights halfway round the world starting in Nepal. I remember waking up to a perfectly sunny day, without any signs of jetlag (I must have been way too excited), and enjoying the quiet calm day before any of the domestic students arrived. I rode a bike a friend had given me and explored all around campus, from South Hall to the bike co-op, slowly recognizing all the buildings I had seen only on a computer screen at home since I hadn’t visited campus.

When I came to Oberlin after having lived in Nepal for 19 years, I was both anxious and excited about developing a whole new set of friendships with people from all around the world. Looking back at the past three years, the international student orientation days always come to mind as serving as the springboard that launched me headfirst into the charms of Oberlin’s diverse and global connections. In that big common room in Peters Hall, I made some of my first Oberlin friends from India, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Kenya. They are now some of my best friends—almost a Harry Potter-like parallel. In the days that followed, we all bonded together over karaoke events, late-night bonfires and barbecues, shopping trips, and the multitude of food events and performances Oberlin offers.

All the wonderful positive memories from international orientation and the interactions with the wider Oberlin community that helped me grow through the years made me realize that I had to give back to Oberlin the warmth, support, and nourishment I received when I got here. I became more involved in the International Student Organization (ISO), one of the largest student organizations on campus, as an event coordinator and helped organize some exciting fun events to bring together people. We organized a very interesting program, Myths and Truths About My Country, for learning about other countries and their cultures. International students make presentations about ideas that people have about their countries of origin, then either debunk or confirm them. We also help set up Oberlin’s annual Culture Festival, during which student organizations and downtown merchants come together to present food, clothes, activities, and performances. A few months ago, I organized an international night out at the `Sco, where international student DJs played popular music from all around the world and had the place hopping.

Every single year after my first year, I’ve stayed in Oberlin during the summer and participated in the pre-orientation programs in August because it is so much fun to see excited new faces making their first friendships and getting ready to dive into the welcoming bubble of the student community. Last year, I was a peer mentor, helping incoming first-years from different countries adjust to being in college at Oberlin. I talked to a lot of new students, both through e-mail throughout the summer and by presenting about Oberlin to them and their parents at orientation. I spent two years as an RA in Kahn Hall, where I made more first-year friends and tried to be a peer advisor of sorts, helping them settle comfortably in Oberlin and organizing ice cream parties every so often to balance out the stress of college life. This year, I am an academic ambassador to incoming first-years and chair of ISO, and I am ever so excited to meet students at the upcoming orientation. I hope to get my mind blown by the enthusiasm of the new first-year class, and I want to help make their years at Oberlin like mine: a wonderful enjoyable experience.

All these various opportunities that I’ve discovered and delved into have certainly changed my personality from a shy, introverted geek into a more dynamic, resourceful, and outgoing person who can’t walk around campus without saying “hi” to at least 10 friends passing by. These friendships and involvement in things I care about deeply have helped me as I go through the intense academic rigor of being a physics student doing research. Oberlin has taught me to balance work and play very well, and I’ll always be thankful for that.