Winter term, or January term as some call it, is one of the best ideas that Oberlin offers. After a long fall semester, you return home for the holidays, and after New Year's Day, you essentially have the entire month of January to do a project of your choice. Some of my colleagues and friends have done some extraordinary projects, such as directing or participating in a play, starting a travel or food blog, learning how to drive and acquiring their driver’s license, and learning how to cook some family recipes and putting together a cookbook. Other projects have involved studying for tests involving post-Oberlin career paths such as the MCAT, LSAT, or GRE, or conducting some form of research. Service trips to countries abroad are also popular. The beauty of winter term is that we get time off from a traditional academic routine and are able to be creative, learn something new, or be in places you would not otherwise be able to be due to the quotidian responsibilities Oberlin students have on-campus.
Oberlin requires that three winter term projects must be completed prior to graduation. I completed three projects already but decided to opt for a fourth one. I could have stayed at home and relaxed all month, but since it is my final year at Oberlin, I thought about how this would be my last opportunity to have a winter term like the one Oberlin offers to us. Here is a list of small descriptions of what my previous projects have been:
Project 1 in January of 2015: Upward Bound Program Assistant. Upward Bound is a federally-funded program that provides low-income, first-generation high school students in urban schools the resources and mentorship they need to familiarize themselves with the college application process. I was a member of this program during high school, so I returned and helped facilitate the afterschool activities for the program. Additionally, I had one-on-one sessions with current seniors and workshopped their writing for the Gates Millennium and Dell scholarship applications.
Project 2 in January of 2016: Oberlin Business Scholars. After two intensive interviews, I was selected to participate in the month-long Oberlin-specific program regarding business, finance, and future career trajectories. I spent the first couple of weeks at Oberlin going through orientation with my cohort. We practiced introducing ourselves, learned about different business sectors such as private equity, finance, nonprofits, to name a few, and worked in teams to research the companies we were scheduled to visit that month. We met many Oberlin alums in different industries during our visit to Cleveland, New York City, and Boston.
Project 3 in January of 2017: Research Interviews. As part of my independent research project through the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship at Oberlin, I was prepared to start the fieldwork research and had the approval to begin interviewing participants for my project. However, I was studying abroad in Central America for the entire spring semester of 2017, so I would not have been able to start my fieldwork until the summer of that year. This winter term gave me the opportunity to begin interviews and I successfully conducted eight of them throughout the month of January.
In my experience, my winter term projects have informed me of what I hope to do in the future. My first project showed me that I enjoyed writing, which led me to pursue a Rhetoric and Composition minor and becoming a writing associate for the college. My second project informed me that the business industry of finance, equity, and things of that sort was not for me, but I have done nonprofit work before and still considered that to be part of my career path at some point. However, this project gave me the unique skill set and knowledge about business that led me to become a co-manager for a transportation start-up company, ShuttleHome, started by an Oberlin alum, that provides Oberlin students, faculty, and residents the option to travel to Chicago, New York City, and Washington D.C. during school breaks via a coach bus. My third project affirmed my enjoyment of talking with people, wanting to learn more about their experiences, and doing ethnographic research.
My fourth winter term project in January of 2018, which is still going on now, is titled Writing and Researching. If you read my previous post (“What comes next?” The Arduous Process of Applying for Graduate School), you are aware that my plan is to matriculate into a doctoral program upon completion of my Oberlin studies. I wanted to get into the habit of writing and research daily, so my project is to complete a draft of my Honors thesis for Sociology. I wanted to spend time outside of Oberlin and being at home has too many distractions. That is why I am spending half of winter term in Mexico, traveling through different towns in the state of Jalisco, which is where I am now. Being away in a space with many unfamiliar faces has helped me get into a writing and reading habit that I know I will be forced to do while in grad school. The other half of my project will be spent in Chicago; however, I will be visiting coffee shops and libraries to work on my writing to avoid any distractions. This project holds me accountable for making progress for my thesis but also allows me to figure out what method and environment help me write and research better, which will prove to be invaluable post-Oberlin.
My final project would not have been possible without the funding support provided by the Oberlin Latino/a/x Alumni Association (OLAA) Winter Term Fund. Right now, I find myself thriving in writing and research and escaping the brutal cold in Chicago and Oberlin. One thing I recommend to all Oberlin students is to take advantage of the winter term opportunities and resources that are available. Winter term is a fun time.