The Oberlin Stories Project

On trying new things

Ellen Drake ’15

“My whole life I have opposed most forms of personal change with all of my being...Much to my surprise, I felt my anxiety start to abate within hours of being on campus.”

Ellen and friends on the walkway of an urban bridge

My whole life I have opposed most forms of personal change with all of my being. The changes that accompany growing up made me visibly uncomfortable. By the time I reached high school I had perfected the art of routine. I got up at the same time, ate the same thing for breakfast, drove the same way to swim practice every morning, etc. Consequently, the idea of starting college was terrifying. As my move-in day neared, I became increasingly more anxious. Having a routine had been my main method of coping with my social anxiety in high school. Going to a new school, in a new city, with new people, with entirely unfamiliar professors made my head spin. Swimming had been the basis of my routine in high school, and even that was going to change!

Much to my surprise, I felt my anxiety start to abate within hours of being on campus. I rapidly made friends with the former strangers in my classes and my teammates were quickly becoming a family. With these positive experiences I began to wonder what other unfamiliar things had I been missing.

Luckily, Oberlin was the perfect place to test my new adventurous spirit that it had inspired. Campus was filled with opportunities to try out new things at my own pace. Coming from a conservative family, NPR was never played growing up. I am now a proud fan of This American Life after hearing Ira Glass speak my first semester. The Mandarin downtown has an amazingly inexpensive lunch special, which encouraged me to try Chinese food. How had I never agreed to try it before? Jazz music was also something I had written off as something for school bus drivers only. As I met more people, I made friends that were not only jazz appreciators, but musicians as well. To support them I started going to concerts at the Cat in the Cream on campus. Not only were the musicians talented, but I actually found myself enjoying the music, so much so that my study music playlist consists mostly of jazz pieces recommended to me by friends.

These small successful exploits further fueled my curiosity. When I was little, I wanted to be a dancer and dreamed of living in New York. As I grew older and moved away from dance, I started to fear city life instead. But with my ambition reignited and so many Oberlin friends from New York, I began to wonder if I should give it another chance.

This summer I finally took the plunge to give it a try and accept my dream internship at Gersnter Sloan-Kettering, working in a leukemia research lab. While I was still nervous about the change, I started imagining all the new things I could try out. Instead of focusing on the transition, I was able to concentrate on my ever-growing to-do list of things to try. While in New York, I’ve channeled my Oberlin-fed adventurous side and have had an amazing experience. I actually have a list of things I want to try before I leave! My favorite part is visiting new neighborhoods; not only have I found some fun spots, but my roommate the other day called me brave for trying so much. It made me look back and realize how much I have grown as a result of Oberlin. I am really happy to be closer to the me I have always wanted to be.