Oberlin Blogs

Bendable Things

February 4, 2014

Andrea Allen ’17

Bendy Things: Included but not limited to my legs, arms, sometimes my back, my Winter Term work habits, sleep schedule, re-useable plastic forks.

Winter Term is a break from rigidity. It's a time to be flexible both in what you plan, and also in accepting what you don't expect. It's possible that you could come up with the perfect project and then have it not meet your expectations and let you down, while it is also just as likely that you will be not very jazzed about your term idea, and then have a whale of a time.

For me, a little of each happened. I knew my actual project would not take up all of my time, but I hadn't thought too specifically about what I was going to do with the rest of the hours I would spend awake each day. When I began to write this post, I intended to write about what I "did" for Winter Term. The answer turned out to be much more exciting and complex than expected, and there are many pieces to it.

What I spent the bulk of this January doing was hanging out on the beach doing Acroyoga. Shoot, I thought, that has nothing to do with what I should write for the Oberlin Blogs because it wasn't my official project... But wait! It does! It's still part of my Oberlin experience, and this is why Winter Term is the bomb.

I tutored math for my official Winter Term project, which was challenging and rewarding. I was tutoring other college students, and I found when teaching my peers it was easy to feel as though I was coming across as condescending or self-righteous. But after the first few sessions where I began to enjoy working out problems with others, I realized that we are all just helping each other. My skills were growing stronger as I taught others, while their skills were sharpening with encouragement from the other tutors and me to practice, practice, practice.

What I found myself confronted by, though, were the opportunities harbored by a month without classes or traditional student commitments. I found myself in the Los Angeles area, which I had never spent much time in before, determined to explore every corner. (And, of course, try every good-looking place to eat.) There were things I wanted to do that I didn't quite get to, but then there were things I had no idea would come my way that did in a big way.

I found myself thrown into this wonderful community of people who do acro and other related physical practices, and I met a multitude of inspiring people within the course of a few weeks. These connections will stay with me always, and I'll be able to take the inspiration with me wherever I go.

See? Really, really inspirational. And that sunset. Come on.

I didn't read as much as I wanted to, but I did a lot more yoga than I thought I would. I didn't bake anything ambitious, but I went crazy in the kitchen with what I had. I didn't stay up to date on the news and current events as much as I wanted to, but I explored a different part of the greater Los Angeles area almost every day, so I can say I engaged with the world around me.

I think the challenge Winter-Term-ers face is how to apply oneself to the time available. Some people need a break from commitment and routine. For me, I had long-term goals that were in no way going to be accomplished if I didn't work on them heavily over Winter Term. Moreover, I learned that I am learning all the time. Every day I could pinpoint something I had learned that day alone: How to explain mathematical integration with pictures in five minutes, handstand techniques, which freeways I should take for the quickest routes across the city, what happens to me when I drink three different caffeinated beverages in the course of a few hours (Note: I can type really, really fast).

As the month came to a close and people off campus started returning, various texts from friends asking me "WHEN are you coming home?!" put a smile on my face. I was ready to come back to Oberlin and start a fresh semester.

So on the question of what I "did" for Winter Term, there are many answers. The project that I am getting credit for had me engaging one part of my brain, and what I spent the rest of my time doing engaged the other half, and also probably had the highest possible benefit for my mental and physical health.

One morning I hiked 3 miles to the top of a mountain before sunrise... I got to watch LA come to life as I did some yoga. Can you spot downtown LA?

In short, what you do for Winter Term and what you do during Winter Term can be wonderfully opposite. I feel great after having maximized the potential of the vastly different opportunities I had this January. The flexibility of the month allowed me to pour my time into many of the metaphorical cups I wanted to fill.

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