Oberlin Blogs

Add/Dropping into a good situation

September 19, 2010

Tess Yanisch ’13

I intended for this week's blog to be about the joys of living on Sci-Fi Hall. However, I still need to get one or two truly badass group photos from my RA. (I promise it'll be worth the wait.) Instead, today's blog will be about serendipity and stumbling into what promises to be a fascinating class.

In my previous two semesters, I had gotten into the classes I wanted to take and enjoyed them, so I had never utilized the Add/Drop system. I didn't intend to this semester, either. I began the year taking United States Foreign Policy, Research Methods in Psychology, Cultural Psychology, and Francais Orale et Ecrit. They were all very interesting classes and I enjoyed them very much.

By Tuesday, though, I came to the realization that the combined course load was, to use a technical term much employed in the Oberlin vernacular, a shit-ton of work. (A shit-ton is a highly accurate and precise unit measuring the overwhelmingness of a given task. It is roughly equivalent to 17.5 shitloads, or 0.86 metric shit-tonnes.) It's difficult to anticipate the course of a whole semester after only two or three classes, especially when you're taking care of settling-in chores at the same time, but I was beginning to feel as though I were on an educational treadmill. As I raced along, trying to stay on top of everything, I felt that I was at risk of not retaining as much as I normally would--not a fun position to be in. French and Foreign Policy were particularly heavy contributors to this workload--a shame, since I was really interested in the subjects.

My decision to change my schedule around came about in a rather convoluted way. I had expressed interest in helping one of my psychology professors, Nancy Darling, with one of her current research projects. She said I could, but the time the research team usually met was only an hour before my French class. I didn't know, at this point, how long these meetings would last, so I started looking around for alternatives to my French class, which would also lighten my academic load.

Foreign Policy actually gave me more work than French, but I have always been interested in history and feel I ought to know more about our political entanglements than I do. My conception of the Cold War, for instance, runs like this: We feel threatened by Russia. Russia thinks we're corrupt. Lots of nukes, never fired. McCarthyism. Cuba: Bay of Pigs, missile crisis. Giving weapons to Iran so they can sell them to insurgencies in South America, or maybe it's the other way around. Something about Kissinger. Nixon goes to China, which is also communist, and that's important. Berlin Wall comes down. President is a jelly doughnut. I am born. So I wasn't wild about dropping that class, and besides, it wasn't at a time that could potentially conflict with anything else. French, however, was.

I scouted around on Presto, Oberlin's online course-registration site, and found a class on the Internet and making web pages that a friend of mine was taking. It was several hours later than the French one. Perfect! I talked with this friend over dinner and found that the class wasn't too much work, it would be relatively easy to catch up, and I could share her books. Even better!

I had also found, when I was investigating alternative classes, several interesting ones that met at the same time as Foreign Policy. They were all very interesting, but one in particular caught my fancy: Linguistic Anthropology. Again, it was a class I had some friends in, and they thought I could catch up quickly and would enjoy it. I had heard from several people that the professor was really good. I couldn't help but be intrigued . . . words and social science? Was this too good to be true?

Upon further reflection, I decided I probably could drop Foreign Policy--I had all the books, after all, and could read them on my own time. So here was a new option: I could switch out of both my hard-work classes. But would that be okay? Would it be cheating, slacking off, laziness? Could I justify, well, making my life easier?

After enough of the people whose advice I sought had replied to my anxious questions with blank stares and "Um . . . yes?", I made my decision. It was a very freeing and empowering moment.

As it turned out, the Internet and Beyond class didn't actually have an opening. However, it also turned out that the research team meetings won't take longer than an hour, if that, so sticking with French wasn't a problem. There were no problems with the other switch, though, so I went ahead with it. I have only had one Linguistic Anthropology class so far, but I think it may become my favorite course. Interpersonal relations are just so fascinating! And words! Communication . . . !

The point of my rather discursive story is this: that one particular impetus (psychological research) got me considering the possibility of dropping one class (French), which in turn made me decide to drop another (Foreign Policy) and opened up new opportunities I would have otherwise not let myself explore.

Besides, it looks like some of what we're studying in Linguistic Anthropology could actually inform what I'm going to be doing for Professor Darling. It's meant to be! I feel like Kronk from The Emperor's New Groove: "Oh yeah. It's all comin' together." (2:30 into this clip.)

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