[Around Tappan Square]

A New Academic Year: A First-Year's View

If my visit to Oberlin in late October 1996 had left any indelible impression with me--a campus devoid of students gone for fall break, bleak skies, pouring rain, and no one to discuss my intended environmental studies major with--I might never have opened another of the subsequent packets sent to me by Oberlin's admissions office.

When I began my college search, I received sound advice from my father: "Examine all the possibilities open to you, Audra," he said. "There are many colleges and universities out there that will be 'right' for you, so gather all the information you can to make the best decision. I want you to be happy, wherever you go."

I absorbed these pointers and used them to direct my search--until it came time to make a final decision. At that point, I threw away all rational arguments (which were, at the time, money and accessibility) that pointed me in the direction of Ohio State University and followed my gut instinct, which is how I found myself at Oberlin. I chose the College purely on intuition and then found, to my amazement, that it was in fact the best place for me.


Weighed down with travel luggage and footlockers, I recall standing at the entrance to the Baldwin Women's Collective, a towering stone cottage on the south end of campus, and gaping at the awesome beauty of the structure that was to be my home for the next year. My dad and I trudged up three winding flights of stairs to my room. While in the process of lugging a particularly heavy footlocker to the third floor, I was met by two guys who invited me to a friendly full-contact Frisbee fest that afternoon. I thought it strange (yet delightfully so) that the first people I encountered in Baldwin happened to be male, and from then on I ceased to be surprised by anything that came my way. That first week of orientation, I recall being herded from place to place and meeting so many people I gave up trying to remember all their names, but the constant frenzy of activity thrilled me.

My greatest shock after two months of college life had nothing to do with the intelligent people I meet everywhere, or the five hours I spend each night in a womb chair reading for homework, or even the amazing sense of freedom that each first-year student (including this one) is usually overwhelmed by. Rather, my introduction to cafeteria food--more specifically, the meat--served as the biggest surprise and has made me reevalutate my stomach's priorities. Growing up in Wooster, surrounded by rural Ohio, I became a die-hard carnivore because of the availability of "Good Meat," and I packed my lunch every day from kindergar-

ten through my senior year to save money. I looked down on vegetarians, unable to grasp how anyone could turn away from a succulent juicy pork chop. How could I have known that one chicken sandwich from Stevenson would change my whole outlook on food? Since that first meal, I've been a cafeteria vegetarian and also discovered, though it was an abrupt and unpleasant lesson, that all my preconceived no-tions and understanding of myself could possibly be turned upside down by the time I graduate. I'd hoped that something of that nature would occur when I left home and came to Oberlin, but I didn't expect to start redefining myself so quickly.


If nothing else, I learned in my first week that I could define myself in many ways: I'm interested in environmental issues; I'm a newly converted vegetarian; I'm living in Baldwin; I need a job; I'm fromWooster, but I'm now a part of the Oberlin community. The last realization came to me during the "Day of Awareness," organized to introduce small groups of first-years and transfers to Oberlin and Lorain County through tours and community service projects. Spreading manure and topsoil in a new garden for the benefit of Oberlin's Eastwood Elementary School students made me appreciate the value of volunteerism and convinced me that I'd be losing many opportunities if I confined myself to academia in my first year of studies. Before my arrival in Oberlin, community service was not one of my high priorities, but I'm now eager to make it a part of my life.

I suppose it depends on the type of person one is, but my first two months at Oberlin have challenged and excited me beyond all expectations. I've never shared a bedroom in my life, but I'm learning the art of compromise as my roommate and I find ways to coexist despite differing schedules. The fact that I learn more through outside reading and discussions with friends than I actually learn in class has been another eye-opening discovery for me. My mind reels when I try to imagine all the revelations, experiences, stress and friendships I'll encounter and have to deal with, but I'm also joyful that I selected an environment where I feel comfortable enough to allow my mind to reel and grow with each new day.

audra abtis a first-year student majoring in environmental studies who also enjoys dancing, eating, and writing.

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