Anna Brown '11

On exploration: "For my whole life, I lived on the same 15-acre piece of rural property. At Oberlin, the opportunities to get out and see the world kept popping up... my biggest fear [now] is that I'll eventually run out of new places to visit."


Before Oberlin, I was not what most people call "independent." A somewhat shy and anxious teenager, I spent the summer before college having anxiety attacks every time I traveled more than 20 minutes away from home. For my whole life, I lived on the same 15-acre piece of property in a rural part of the suburbs. I hadn't needed to make new friends since kindergarten.

But for some reason, I wasn't nervous to move to a school that most of my friends had never heard of, in a state that I had never been to.

It was certainly a change: I couldn't sleep my first few nights because I could hear cars on the road next to my dorm. I had to adjust to riding a bike in a world of sidewalks and curbs. But adjust I did, and I found that I enjoyed living in an actual town, where I could walk to any store, class meeting, or movie theater.

At Oberlin, the opportunities to get out and see the world kept popping up. I couldn't refuse them, even though it did mean I'd have to venture more than 20 minutes from home, all by myself. In my first two years, I visited New York City three times. In January, I took a road trip from Oberlin to Chicago with five friends. For the Democratic National Convention, I flew out to Denver, though I was unsure if I would even have a place to stay.

But my defining moment arrived when I interned on Capitol Hill for my first winter term. I hadn't planned far enough ahead to arrange housing through Oberlin, but I figured I could commute from home, 30 miles away from DC. I quickly wearied of that commute and stayed with a family friend in the city for the last week. It hadn't really occurred to me that living in a city meant that you could get any type of food you wanted at any hour without driving a car. You could stay out late and find shops and restaurants still open. You could walk down the street and stumble upon people playing music, for crying out loud! Well, that was it. After living in DC for a week, I realized I needed to see as much of the world as I possibly could. Oberlin was the place to start.

I knew that my next winter term adventure had to be an international one. I applied for service projects in Ghana and Belgium but ultimately decided to live on a kibbutz in southern Israel for three weeks, teaching environmental sustainability at an experimental high school. Unfortunately, this was in January 2009, an unstable time for the region. Three days before my flight, a bomb launched from Gaza destroyed a nearby settlement, and the high school was shut down. A letdown, but I immediately returned to Oberlin and spent my winter term studying the Israel-Palestine conflict. I learned a lot and ended up with some good life experiences in the end, such as surviving temperatures below zero. (And I now have credit with Continental Airlines that I'm itching to use!)

I still wanted to live somewhere new, so I applied for the Cole Scholars program, a fellowship for sophomores and juniors interested in electoral politics. For the summer, we work on a campaign anywhere in the country and are given a stipend for our efforts. This June, I found myself on a plane from Baltimore to San Francisco. I moved into an apartment with a roommate I had never met, in a state I had never visited, working for a candidate I had barely heard of. (My candidate turned out to be Gavin Newsom, who will be the next governor of California if my hard work pays off.)

My first day, afraid to leave the building, I explored the neighborhood through GoogleMaps streetview. But the next day, I ventured out into San Francisco. Over the course of the summer, I traveled statewide with the campaign, and visited Obie friends in Nevada. Eight weeks turned out to be far too short to see all that I wanted.

Now, I'm faced with a dilemma: there are too many places that I want to live. I now love the city life, but know I'll miss cornfields. I have a list of places to visit, and if I keep up the rate I've been going the last two years, that list will shrink pretty fast. My biggest fear is that I'll eventually run out of new places to visit.

And my next adventure? I plan to spend my spring semester studying gender politics in Morocco. Who knows what I'll find there! I hope this will be one more city that moves from my list of "places to visit" to my list of "places to live."


Submitted by Anna Brown '11

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