Oberlin Blogs

Ask Ruth's Friends: Winter Term 2019!

January 23, 2019

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

Hi, readers! If you’ve been frequenting the Oberlin Blog website, you probably know that January at Oberlin is the month of Winter Term. Winter Term is a time where students have the opportunity to pursue an independent project: these can range a lot in complexity and content, from learning to play the lute to working on a farm in Puerto Rico (actual WTs I know students have done before). I wrote about my 2018 Winter Term project here but I wanted to do something a little bit different this time! To provide a broader sense of what Winter Term can look like, I decided to interview a few of my best buds at Oberlin. I am planning to write a separate post about my own experience with Winter Term later on, but for now, here’s a new “Ask Ruth's Friends” blog post! (For more “Ask a Friend” type-posts, I recommend looking at Kira’s posts here and here. I totally copied her idea, but only because it’s a good one :) .) 

So, without further ado, here’s a little bit about what my friends did for Winter Term! 

Piper (she/her/hers or they/them/theirs)

1.     What do you like best about Winter Term?

I like the freedom! I appreciate that I'm able to (and encouraged to!) pursue adventures that might be unrelated to my college experience. The fact that WT isn't (exclusively) oriented around making yourself a more appealing job candidate or more successful academic is incredibly validating.

2.     What do you not like about Winter Term?

I go back and forth on whether or not this is truly something I dislike, but I struggle with just how open-ended WT can be. I'm a person who (as much as I love a good adventure) appreciates structure, and I find that whatever I choose to do in January, I always feel like I could have been doing something bigger and better. 

3.     What are you doing for Winter Term this year? What’s been your favorite/most memorable moment so far?

This year, my official WT project was certifying as a Wilderness First Responder, unofficially supplemented by a scuba diving trip with my family! The WFR certification class has always been a little too far out of my comfort zone (90 hours of improvised backwoods medicine and gruesome field stories is a CRAZY commitment for someone who still gets a little faint taking a pulse), and this was the perfect time to push through that. The most memorable moment was DEFINITELY our nighttime mock rescue, which was a three-hour multi-patient scenario in the freezing Colorado woods, during which I (a mock seizure patient) had to pee my pants and collapse in the snow while my classmate screamed bloody murder at our rescuers as they reset the bone sticking out of his leg. A wild, weirdly fun time all around!

Piper playing with a Gingko kitten!


Daniel (he/him/his)

1.     What do you like best about Winter Term?

I love being able to branch out to something I don’t usually do, and to focus on just that one thing for a month! And it’s also a great time to be reflective and work on myself, because WT tends to be a relatively solitary time.

2.     What do you not like about Winter Term?

While I like being alone to reflect and work on myself, I also sometimes hate being alone, especially in cold dark January. And I miss my friendssss.

3.     What are you doing for Winter Term this year? What’s been your favorite/most memorable moment so far?

 I’m doing a congressional Internship for my House Rep, Annie Kuster [Daniel is from NH]!! I get to see and be around all of the people that drive our country, which is crazy. One of the most memorable moments I’ve had is when I delivered papers to Rep Kuster during a meeting of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and I got to see some of the proceedings of this powerful committee up close. I also recently drafted response letters on behalf of Rep. Kuster, responding to notes my office received from high school students in NH. That was also really cool.

A poster of Daniel when he acted in the one-man show "Santaland Diaries" by David Sedaris.


Olivia (she/her/hers or they/them/theirs)

1.     What do you like best about Winter Term?

What I like best about Winter Term is the freedom to pursue a project without the pressure of making it last all summer. It just has to be a month, so I can do something new and taste that for just long enough to grow from the experience, but not long enough to get bored. And I get bored quickly.

2.     What do you not like about Winter Term?

What I dislike about Winter Term is its ridiculous inaccessibility. Students are not allowed to use paid work as Winter Term credit. It's so hard for students who don't live in cities or have wealthy families to make internships work without room or board. Many people travel over Winter Term, but, again, the expenses of individual travel or travel through college programs are inaccessible to many. And the college gives Winter Term grants very sparingly and based, not on the students' testimony of needs, but once again on the FAFSA and other institutional and highly limited methods of assessing "need." 

3.     What are you doing for Winter Term this year? What’s been your favorite/most memorable moment so far?

This Winter Term I stayed with a family friend outside of Paris for the language immersion. While there, I translated Pascal Monnier's poetry from French to English. I got to know my host, the mother of my own mother's high school French exchange student, as well as my host's lovely family and friends. I learned quite a lot about the French political climate at the moment; I went into Paris frequently, seeing evidence of the Gilets Jaunes riots on all the major streets. It was incredible to be immersed, not only in the language, but in the lives of the people I met, witnessing and learning in a way that, I hope, was respectful and unobtrusive. My favorite parts were eating meals with my host and her children when they would visit; she has two daughters and a son, all brilliant and dynamic and so kind. I felt a part of the family, and also so connected to my own, because my host and her entire family knows my entire family and talks about them fondly. 

Olivia sitting in a tree outside Wilder Hall.


Alex (she/her/hers)

1.     What do you like best about Winter Term?

I think Winter Term gives me a chance to learn in a different way than I do the rest of the year. I’m allowed and encouraged to get out of my head and step into the “real world” for a moment and explore something that I wouldn’t have the time or resources to do in a classroom. Plus, I get to be off campus during one of the coldest months of the year!

2.     What do you like not like about Winter Term?

The placement is a little weird, I sometimes wish spring semester could end a little earlier because it conflicts with some summer programs. I think it can also be difficult to stay self-motivated/focused if you’re running your own project or at home. At least that’s what I’ve heard from many people, and why personally I opted for programs that would give me structure cause otherwise I’d burn out.

3.     What are you doing for Winter Term this year? What’s been your favorite/most memorable moment so far?

This year I went to my lovely friend Ruth’s home state of New Mexico and spent a few weeks at a place called Ghost Ranch studying geology, archeology, and paleontology. I was nervous cause it [the program] was completely unaffiliated with Oberlin, but I met a lot of cool people and was able to go out of my comfort zone and hear a lot of cool stories. Specifically, I learned a bunch about the Native Puebloan people of NM and the Southwest which was incredibly moving and made me reconsider how they teach U.S. History in America. Also, I spent three weeks in one of the most beautiful landscapes west of the Mississippi!

Alex wearing a daisy chain as a mustache.

And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed hearing about what my friends did for Winter Term, and maybe this will become a yearly tradition! Happy January, everyone, and enjoy the rest of your Winter Terms! 

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