You're walking through North Quad on your way to class. You see an old friend walking towards you; although you intend to stop and say hello to her, your immediate course of action is to hastily avert your eyes, so that you avoid a long and painfully awkward stretch of wordless eye contact. Ironically, your decision to glance away is itself an awkward gesture, and as you steadily march towards your inevitable social interaction, you obsessively replay the maneuver in your mind, longing for even a modicum of grace.
The moment arrives.
"Hey Will, how're you doing?" the friend asks. (Note that my use of the second person in my introduction has here been revealed as a selfish farce.)
"Oh pretty well. I've been busy."
"What was that you were looking at on the sidewalk back there?"
"Oh that? Nothing. I mean, there was something. I looked for a reason. But, you know, not worth mentioning. But, uhm, how're you?"
"Not bad. Really busy, though."
"Yeah, seems to be the trend."
At this point, I laugh nervously, shrug a little bit, and then we part ways.
The point illustrated here, other than my troublesome diffidence, is that Oberlin students are, or at least perceive themselves as being, busy. It's probably the second most common phrase used during introductory small talk (behind "I'm doing great, thanks!" but far ahead of "You look like somebody who'd want to join the wrestling team") and the circumstances that yielded such a state often constitute the rest of the conversation. Sometimes it can even become a friendly competition:
"I'm busier than you are."
"No way! I'm taking Calc II this semester!"
"Oh yeah? Well I'm taking Stats and Biology. Plus I have a boyfriend!"
"Oh yeah? Well..."
And so on and so forth.
Certainly there's no want of things to do on campus and even a minimal course load can be a lot to handle. I think that the "busy" trend owes mostly to the fact that Oberlin students are very good at filling their waking hours with activity. For some, that will mean devoting a lot of time to work for two classes; for others, it means devoting less time to a lot of different activities. I fall decisively in the latter camp, but it's a lifestyle that I adopted in high school and one I find enjoyable.
Which brings up the most important part about this discussion of the workload at Oberlin: it's almost always manageable. Students tend to have a good idea of where their limits are, and though they'll push themselves close to that limit they invariably stop short of creating a scheduling catastrophe. (It's sort of analogous to the action-movie cliché where a sleek, bright red convertible heading towards a cliff comes to a screeching halt inches away from the edge. Except that Obies would be driving a Prius or a converted school bus, and they'd inch their way towards the cliff, slow and steady.)
Of course, it doesn't always feel like I'm avoiding a catastrophe. There are plenty of times when I worry that I won't be able to keep juggling all of my different activities and obligations, and very often I get mad for forcing myself into situations in which my workload defies all rational notions of feasibility. But these moments are fleeting and things find a way of working out all right in the end. I can't speak for others, but I suspect I'm not alone in my experience. Though kids at Oberlin have divergent interests, everyone shares a devotion to their education - be it academic, musical, cultural, or social - which manifests itself in their days being willfully saturated with activity.