I thought it was part of my job description to essentially be an infomercial for Oberlin and make it sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread. I thought I should write endlessly about the positive experiences I had in my first semester. Trouble was, I could hardly find things to write about. Yes, it was that bad. Rather, my perception of it was that bad.
I think the greatest service I can do for you readers is be honest. Below were initially my biggest grievances at Ol' Obie, and following is how I see them now.
1. Double degree, at least for the first couple of years, really means being a conservatory student who can take a few college classes on the side.
How I See It Now: It's true the conservatory is institutionally more demanding in the first few years (generally speaking), because you have auditioned for a major: you are given a major-level workload as soon as you get here. I was convinced I was trapped in this setup--minimally blended musical and liberal arts studies.
However, I have to step back and remember the basic thing: I'm being given the unusual opportunity to study music and something else in collegiate depth. There is simply not time to do it all at once. I, and you if applicable, will likely have to be patient regarding many classes we want to explore. The schedule of a double-degree Obie changes from semester to semester: many say as you get older it flip flops between being more conservatory or more college-heavy. Careful with the permanence of your first impressions.
2. The cultural and racial climate was a big adjustment from my native Denver. I felt alienated as a mixed race person. Some dialogue on campus was upsetting, as I never knew where I could place myself in these dialogues: as a white person, or as a person of color. Both have a certain degree of personal illegitimacy.
How I See It Now: This is a state of being all mixedies know too well, no matter your mixture. It is something I, and most of us, will struggle with the rest of our lives. If you deal with this kind of split identity in the realm of race, sexuality, gender, religion, etc., remember this: you have a unique window into the world of crossed borders. Only you can know the pages of both books, the ingredients of both compositions, the atmospheres of both worlds. That is invaluable insight.
There absolutely is room for you in campus dialogue. You have indispensable experience and knowledge as an individual, and the right people will greet you with open arms.
3. This is the busiest I have ever been. Every little thing has extreme importance.
How I See It Now: First thing: yes. Second thing: no. A million times no.
About the busy-ness: I took 24 credits last semester, and am signed up for 26 credits next semester. In retrospect, it was not the workload that drove me nuts--it was how I handled it in such negative light. I was plagued by a belief I didn't deserve to be at Oberlin (false), and I resented the strain on my energy and time.
About "every little thing": Prioritization and time management are processes of adulthood; do not rip yourself to shreds if you don't exactly nail these all the time. If you are a prospie or a freshman, you are fresh out of high school. You probably won't have an appropriate and efficient use of independence down pat. Give yourself a break, in fact, many breaks. Be gentle with yourself!
I see now that I dwelled on failures and brushed off accomplishments to make for a self-destructive semester. I constantly berated myself, and distanced myself from potential friendships. I made a lot of unhealthy choices, in part due to mental illness that is now being treated, as well as lifelong insecurities.
The most important thing to take away from this is: you must know, trust, and love yourself. That is some cheesy corny Hallmark card sap, but it's the truth. If I didn't allow myself to change, move perspectives, listen deeply, or look closely, I would have continued to miss the forest for the trees.
On the road to recovery, troops! Remember to laugh. Also, sleep. There is no reason you shouldn't find your place, in Oberlin or in the world; nor is there any reason you wouldn't be worthy of that place. Best of luck in life's forests, saplings.