Oberlin fluctuates between a place of safety and an isolated hub of culture trapped in the Midwest. I return to campus each semester with a different mindset. Sometimes I crave the seclusion of the College and its fierce social justice spirit. Other times I panic at the thought of being in the hinterlands, past cornfields and plains of soybeans, remote from city life and up-tempo society.
I stayed on campus the entire fall semester, with no desire to return home to NYC. The high pace of the city and urban mass of people speeding from one place to the next was unappealing next to Oberlin’s quietude. When I returned for Winter Term, my concept of the city changed. I fell in love with New York again. I was enchanted by the diversity and multitude of people and immersed myself in a busy social life. I became close to people in their mid- to late-20s who had their lives together and their careers plotted out. I was inspired yet terrified, floored by the uncertainty of my own future.
As a junior, most of my friends are abroad, exploring new countries, enraptured by different cultures. I arrived to campus with the feeling of a detached graduate, viewing the Oberlin bubble as an outsider. I could not identify as a student; my mind was elsewhere, in the uncharted future. This was partly because over Winter Term I had fallen for a man who was at a more established stage in life, and I was envious of his stability. He was well-traveled as a surfer, spanning 44 countries by his early 20s. He learned to carry home with him, with no attachments to physical places. In contrast, I have traveled to a mere four countries and have difficulty with transitions. Coming back to Oberlin, I found myself in a place familiar yet distant, and lost my sense of self despite the familiarities of college. I scrambled for a week trying to gather myself so I could re-identify with the person I always knew myself to be.
Oberlin taught me to be intuitive and politically passionate about intellectual matters and civil rights. However, socially, there is a general coldness on campus, perhaps due to the large number of city kids — but that’s seemingly not the sole reason. At Oberlin, I learned to shut down my emotions, to avoid residual feelings, making myself immune to attachment or rejection. The past two years I have been numb while on campus, but returning this winter from a fling that allowed me to reconnect with my authentic self, I feel all ranges of emotion in every aspect of my life.
By engaging in on-campus events, joining clubs, attending lectures and studying in social spaces, I realized I could reacclimate to the Oberlin community. While the winter weather’s chilly temperature makes it a challenge to explore campus, spring is approaching. Oberlin may be small, but the student body is booming with activism, ideas and inspirations. At the high price of a liberal arts private college, the need to take advantage of what Oberlin has to offer dawned on me. I can travel and explore after graduation, but right now I need to be present in the here and now. Career Services can be intimidating to navigate, but it provides helpful reassurance that Oberlin students do graduate with job offers, despite the current state of the job market. Attending Oberlin alumni events and connection fairs has instilled hope in me. We are a talented, driven body of individuals, and our passion and intellect does not go unnoticed in the larger world.