The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Features September 8, 2006

The First Week Back: Reflections from first years and upperclassmen

I’ve been oriented, disoriented and even hypnotized. I’ve sat through tedious speeches and thrilling concerts. I’ve learned and forgotten countless names, and I’ve met some of the funniest, most intelligent and sweetest people that I could ever hope to meet. My time at Oberlin has begun, and I have experienced nothing but pure happiness since I arrived. Everyone from my advisor to the upperclassmen to my fellow Dascombers has whole-heartedly welcomed me into their midst, offering their wisdom, their alcohol and their company at all hours of the day and night.

I hail from Los Angeles where — despite the ocean breeze — I’ve been mostly surrounded by image-conscious, self-deprecating and judgmental peers.  Statements like “Does this make me look fat?” or “She’s such a slut” were everyday jargon. At my high school, reaching across the chasm between groups was “social suicide.”

I’m thankful to be in a place now where everyone feels at ease with themselves and with each other, where comfort comes before fashion and where a six-hour spooning party is deemed normal. Just knowing that I can walk into Stevie, plop down at any table and join the conversation makes me unbelievably happy.

Another refreshing change from L.A. is the kindness that pours out from the town and the College. I am pleasantly shocked every time I hear such foreign phrases as “May I help you?” or “Come sit with us.” Here, people say “Excuse me” instead of “Watch it!” when they collide. The overwhelmingly friendly whiteboards in my hall read: “Come in. We have cookies and cable!” “Knock, we don’t bite!” “Join us if you like music and food.” All this made me think back to my experiences as a visiting prospie, when a friend-of-a-friend offered her futon and her time to convince me of Oberlin’s greatness. I was then, as I am now, won over by the sheer niceness of the campus.

One of my worries before coming was that there would be a sharp division between the Con and the College, but that worry vanished quickly. I sometimes forget which of my new friends are music majors — unless, of course, they are wearing a shirt reading “Oboe Power”— and I feel just as welcome to a clarinet party as to a Harkness free-for-all.

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk around campus about what is “cool” and “lame” for a freshman to do. Arriving to parties in a mob, letting loose at the ’Sco on a weeknight, spending an evening in your room — all have been deemed “lame” activities by the powers that be. However, if I have learned anything since arriving, I’ve learned anything that makes you happy is “cool.” If blasting opera music and playing a mean game of chess puts a smile on your face, go for it. If nothing makes you happier than dancing like there’s no tomorrow, banish all reservations and attend as many ’Sco nights as you can stand. As my friends and I flailed our awkward limbs until the sweat rolled down our necks, shouting the lyrics to songs whose heyday has come and gone, we found a euphoria that was, despite everything, cool.

–Alice Ollstein, first-year

The best word to describe my first week at Oberlin is overwhelming, but I mean this in the best possible way. After all, a rich student life coupled with superb academics is what made me choose this college over many other institutions in the first place. What I didn’t expect, however, was a slew of activities and obligations so vast that time management soon became a daunting task. Never before have I had to juggle so many desirable and exciting things. Orientation is such a brilliant idea. This way, wide-eyed freshman like me can become at least somewhat adjusted and comfortable on campus before the cynical upperclassmen arrive.

My personal orientation experience was jolly indeed, with doors of opportunity and friendship opening ubiquitously. All of the fear I had harbored at home regarding the impending change to life as I knew was shed immediately.  At the same time, this fear was also quickly replaced with an intimidating scope of possibilities. Prioritizing has been excruciating, with sleep and relaxation bottoming the list.

Between the onerous class registration process and adjusting to campus life, I was relieved on Monday to escape to Cedar Point with new-found friends for a day of well-deserved diversion. Millenium Force can make anyone forget their troubles. The following morning brought with it the start of classes and the return of stress, however.

Luckily, comfort came, in the form of synchronicity: each day was an improvement over the last as I learned from mistakes and fine-tuned my ability to prioritize. Now, while the term “overwhelming” may still be appropriate to describe my course load, I prefer to describe life at Oberlin as exciting, enriching, and fun as hell.     

–Michael Calb, first-year

Oh, Oberlin. The fire alarm just went off in Keep, sending a handful of students porch-bound to its single lovely note. I was just beginning to get attached to my new home; it’s a pity it must burn down before I have thoroughly relished dorm living once more. After inhabiting a van, various tents, a cabin and houses of friends and relatives all summer, I was ready for the sanity of my own living space…at least temporarily.

However, I can’t say I was entirely surprised upon entering my room in Keep this year to find that it was roughly the size of a shoebox. The two beds in their frames obstructed any and all walking space in the petit palace I had blindly chosen last year in a rush to get to work at Dascomb. I stood looking at the puddle of furniture before me, shocked by the visions of grandeur I would now associate with my former Harkness room. Later, in an effort to confine the sprawling nature of the beds, we shoved one of the mattresses under the taller of the two beds and proclaimed them bunked. Because I enjoy the luxury of lifting my head off the pillow, we now have bed risers.

I called my roommate, Ally Hauss. She cited several penthouses occupied by our friends here at Oberlin and in my jealousy I struggled to keep my optimism, the optimism that tends to exasperate those around me by its intensity. In a way, I succeeded.

The room is now hilarious.     

In the interest of saving space, we went on a shopping spree for shelves and things that would hang on walls. We ended up with a fun house mirror that makes you look obese on one end and quite slim on the other, a ridiculous Chinese lantern that does nothing except look red and globular and miniscule nails that made hanging said items a multi-hour endeavor. I added some tinsel left over from last year — it’s balled up on a hook next the window. Ally affectionately calls it “our glob of sparkle.”

I began to realize that the hilarity was also due to our own defective planning and organizing skills. The two of us are dangerously unstudied in the ways of electricity. While trying to connect the various electronics to the three outlets in our room, we ran into several issues involving distance from outlet to appliance. First, I had trouble finding the outlets. I repeatedly stuck my head under my desk to configure various wires, before realizing that the room possessed a third outlet right next to my crazed pile of extension chords. Ally had similar problems. “Is this an extension cord?” she asked, looking quizzically at the object looped around her hands.

Oberlin seems to have taken away our common sense. By focusing on the nether regions of academia, we have lost our clarity of mind. I think this is why PRESTO fails to acknowledge my existence. I have become corrupt; I am unable to hang twinkle lights without accident.  Therefore, I am denied.

This morning, when I was rushing to figure out where to go for the day’s classes, PRESTO decided not to work. I was marginally late to my first Con class ever, but I doubt anyone noticed. PRESTO is so fixated on ignoring me that it made sure I would only be able to register for a class where I disappear into a frenzied collage of faces in Kulas Recital Hall.

In addition, PRESTO has produced so many red X’s signifying blocked entry to a class that they are as familiar to me as stop signs. At least with stop signs, one is allowed to continue on one’s way.

But this too can be handled with a light heart. I signed up for so many ExCo’s Wednesday evening that my days shall be full of delights, regardless of whether or not PRESTO decides to stop holding a grudge. And having easily regained my Dascomb job, there is a possible career in food services shining brilliantly in my future.

–Laurel Fuson, sophomore

Being back at Oberlin for my fourth year after a one-semester absence, the first thing I’ve noticed is how few people I seem to know. Regrettably, I didn’t get to know too many of last year’s first-years outside of those at The Oberlin Review, and now there’s a whole new large group of people discovering the ins and outs of Oberlin campus. One can’t help but get a little nostalgic at the sight of this year’s freshman class flipping out as they put together their schedules in A-level—or for that matter getting high in the shade on North Quad.

The second thing I noticed is the number of people who strangely still seem to be here. People who were already campus legends during my first year who for one reason another are still in school or town. Life in Oberlin can be seductive and it is not hard to understand why many find themselves staying far longer than they had planned.

Nostalgia is the bread and butter of senior life and it is only going to get worse as we approach that day when the class of ’07 walks through (or around) the Memorial Arch and out into the world beyond Tappan Square.        

I miss the sense of beginning a new phase of life, of realizing that an interest in Marxist theory or atonal composition was not only encouraged but occasionally required.

There are also things I’m glad to have left behind. My first venture into the overcrowded Stevenson this semester made me grateful for the stocked fridge in my off-campus house. I also find myself not getting that worked up over the College’s preposterous new “fearless” marketing campaign or which department’s faculty was cut or any other of a number of issues that would have captured my full attention when I was the editor of the Review less than a year ago.

Being a senior is a contrast between extreme fondness and attachment to a place that has become my home over the last few years and a nagging sense that this place isn’t really mine anymore.  All those first-years clogging up the lines at Stevenson are the real face of Oberlin, about to embark on a marvelous journey taking them to the frontiers of ideology, creativity, sexual orientation and personal hygiene. My friends and I are just biding our time feeling guilty about not applying to grad school.

Every year of my college career I’ve heard complaints from cranky seniors about how Oberlin isn’t Oberlin anymore, and Obies aren’t what they used to be. I’m not going to join that chorus. Of course Oberlin has changed, but I’m not self-righteous enough to think that it is somehow a bad thing that the school isn’t the way it was when I was a freshman. Whatever the new party line may be, I still believe Oberlin students can change the world. Now get to it.

–Joshua Keating, senior


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