Oberlin Blogs

Ask Ruth's Friends: Winter Term 2020

January 25, 2020

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

Hello, blogs! I literally haven’t written anything here since last DECADE (haha), and what better topic for my first post of 2020 than winter term?

Winter term, for those of you who don’t know, is a time when Obies get the month of January to pursue an independent project of their choosing. It’s a unique opportunity that not many colleges offer, and it was one of the “pros” on my list when I was deciding on a college. The sky is pretty much the limit with winter term, and I’ve heard of some super interesting and cool projects, such as writing a gluten-free cookbook, traveling to France to translate poetry, working on a farm, learning to play guitar, or doing a congressional internship in the nation’s capital.

It’s always fun to see what my friends and peers end up doing for winter term each year, because there is always such a range. Last year, to provide a more comprehensive view of winter term, I wrote a blog post where I interviewed a few of my friends about their winter-term experiences.

This year, I thought I’d do the same, with a different list of questions and a different group of friends.

Experiences During Winter Term

So, without further ado, here’s a friend! Molly is a second-year friend from Tank co-op and a fellow psych major. She hails from Cleveland, Ohio. Molly is an excellent study buddy and we have a great time making scrambled eggs together almost every morning in our co-op’s industrial kitchen. 

Molly ’22 (she/her/hers)

1. What are you doing for winter term this year? What was the process of finding a winter term project like for you? 

For winter term this year I am volunteering in the Child Care Center at a women’s crisis center in Cleveland, Ohio. Alongside the daily work that I am doing with the children, I am going to write a children’s book designed to help promote good coping skills in young kids who have experienced trauma.

I am so happy with what my project turned out to be for this year; however, this was nowhere near what I originally thought of doing. It took a really long time to find something feasible for this month that I was excited to do. After finishing my education, I hope to become a child life specialist and work in a hospital setting. So, I wanted to use this winter term to shadow someone in the field and get some of the necessary hours needed for applying to master’s programs in the field. This didn't quite work out, though, as a lot of hospitals have competitive programs already set up and don’t accept students outside of that, had an age requirement that I didn't meet, or have programs set up for only certain universities.

My psychology major advisor [Molly and I have the same advisor!] actually helped me think outside of the box to come up with ideas that would allow me to get experience working with children facing challenging circumstances outside of shadowing a child life specialist. I thought of the women's crisis center, which is just a few blocks from my house, and felt like it would be a good fit. I added the idea of writing a children's book to add a creative component to my project, as well as to be able to produce something to give back to the center.

2. What do you wish you knew about the winter-term process going in that you didn’t know? 

I wish I knew that you need to keep an open mind. Although so many projects are possible, it is hard to always design a project that matches your exact idea. Setting up a project, if you are hoping to work with an outside person or organization, takes a fair amount of planning, cold calling/emailing, and using any relevant connections that you might have.

3. What projects have you done in the past, and what has been your favorite so far? What projects are you interested in doing in the future (if you have any ideas!)?

Last year, I shadowed three different kinds of photographers (food/product, portrait, infant and family) in the Cleveland area to learn the ins and outs of the business and to improve my photography skills. I have loved both of the projects that I have done so far for different reasons! I really enjoyed my project last year because photography is my main hobby and something that I thoroughly enjoy doing.

My project allowed me to spend the entire month focusing on that and I was able to learn from highly regarded professionals in the field. I even still do work throughout the year with the infant and family photographer that I spent time with last January.

My favorite part about my project this year is that I know that I am making a difference in the lives of the people that I am working with. It feels good to be able to help these children learn and grow. I am also learning a lot from both the children and the center as a whole, which will only serve to help me as I move through my life and any careers that I may end up in.

For future projects, I would love to go abroad! I am hoping to start learning Spanish next year, so some sort of language intensive in a Spanish-speaking country would be awesome! I also do hope to have the chance to do some working at a children's hospital to see if that is really where I would like to work after I complete my schooling. Other ideas that I have thought of are mastering gluten-free baking, training a service dog, working with a Type 1 Diabetes advocacy group, or learning American sign language. I have no shortage of ideas—just a shortage of winter terms to do them all.

Next is my friend Allison, who I’ve met through the greater OSCA (co-op) community and various German department and linguistics-adjacent activities on campus. She is also an avid bike-helmet wearer.  

Allison ’21 (she/her/hers) 

1. What are you doing for winter term this year? What was the process of finding a winter-term project like for you? 

This year, I’m on campus for the Letterpress Printing project. We’ve been learning how to use the three presses in the Letterpress Studio on the second floor of Mudd Center and have designed our own posters and handbills for the library’s celebration of the centenary of women’s suffrage. I've wanted to do this winter-term project since my first year, and I’m so glad I finally did. The process of finding it wasn’t too stressful, since I knew that I wanted to switch things up with an on-campus project this year. Since I had this planned out, I had a pretty easy time finding the project and it wasn’t stressful at all!

2. What do you wish you knew about the winter-term process going in that you didn’t know?

I wish I knew about the internship opportunities on Handshake [an Oberlin specific job and internship finder website] earlier than I did! They usually start going up around October and I wish that I had taken advantage of those. 

Author’s note: Allison wanted to mention that not all winter terms have to be career-motivated, which is true! You can do whatever you want for winter term, within reason. However, for those looking for internship-style winter terms or more career- or resume-building projects, Handshake is an excellent option for Oberlin students specifically. That’s where I found my project this year!

3. What projects have you done in the past, and what has been your favorite so far? What projects are you interested in doing in the future (if you have any ideas!)?

Both of my previous winter terms have been individual projects. My first year, I spent the month in Mainz, Germany, visiting my brother studying abroad there. I learned about the history of the city by going to just about every museum in the city. It was a perfect way to practice my German.

My second year, I was at home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in German. I compared the translation to the original to see how the story changed in translation. It was really cool to see the elements of the language that were emphasized or preserved in translation.

Although I've gotten different things out of each project, I think that this year’s letterpress project has been the most fun of the three. I really enjoy working on a group project and having this little community in Oberlin over winter term. The project is also very hands-on and creative, which is also so much fun, and completely different from anything I would do during the semester!

Last but not least is my friend Alia! Alia and I have actually known each other since childhood and were in a carpool together for all of middle school and high school. It’s so fun to have another Albuquerque friend on campus and it's been such a joy to see her begin her own Oberlin journey!

Alia ’23 (she/her/hers) 

1. What are you doing for winter term this year? What was the process of finding a winter-term project like for you? 

I went to Guadalajara, México, for my winter-term project this year. The goal of this particular project is to improve students’ Spanish language skills. The program immerses Oberlin students in Mexican culture and traditions. From the get-go I knew that I wanted to do this project, because I hope to minor in Spanish and gain complete fluency in the language.

Prior to this trip, I had never been to a Spanish-speaking country before. I thought that going to México would be a great opportunity for me to better my Spanish speaking and comprehension skills!

2. What do you wish you knew about the winter-term process going in that you didn’t know? 

I wish that I had known more about what international winter-term projects entailed before going on this immersion trip. I am a first-year student, so my trip to Guadalajara was my first winter-term project at Oberlin. I highly recommend this program to anyone who wants to improve their Spanish-speaking skills.

3. What projects are you interested in doing in the future (if you have any ideas!) 

In the future, I want to work as an intern at a nonprofit organization called Encuentro in Albuquerque, New Mexico (where I’m from!). The organization helps immigrants from Latin America complete the paperwork needed to gain U.S. citizenship.

And there you have it, folks. I hope you enjoyed reading about some of my friends’ winter-term projects and that you may have learned something you didn’t know before! I plan to write my own separate post about my winter-term experience, so stay tuned to learn all about how I made more mugs than I know what to do with!

Happy rest of winter term, everyone! 

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