Oberlin Blogs

The Best Courses I Took at Oberlin

March 27, 2021

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

As I enter the last half of my last semester at Oberlin (eek!), I find myself thinking about all the courses I’ve taken over the last four years. At this point, I’ve taken over 32 courses and a few have really stuck with me. I remember being a prospie and looking through course catalogs to help me decide which school I wanted to go to. I scrolled through Oberlin’s entire course catalog and wanted to take nearly all the classes that were offered! It was both overwhelming and exciting. That feeling has remained as I’ve gone through my undergraduate career, and although there are many courses at Oberlin I wish I could’ve taken, I’m mostly very happy with the ones I chose. As such, I wanted to make a list of some of my favorite courses I’ve taken over the last four years: courses that were fun, unexpected, or even changed the way I thought about a certain topic completely. Of course, this list is a small reflection of all the learning I’ve done at Oberlin, and very indicative of my majors: Psychology and German. So take it with a grain of salt, and without further ado, in chronological order: 


Introductory German (GERM 101) – Fall 2017 

After taking both Latin and Spanish in high school, I wanted to learn a new language in college. I had wanted to learn German for a long time and was already considering Germany as a study abroad location. So, I enrolled in German 101. Despite it being an intro class, I found myself looking forward to German every day. The class was about 1/3 vocal majors from the Conservatory, since they’re required to take one semester of German. They had a lot of energy and made the classroom dynamic really fun. My professor, Steve Huff, is a kind, compassionate man and eventually became my advisor. Though the class was intense, meeting 5 days a week (like all Oberlin intro language classes), we learned very quickly, which was exciting and satisfying for me as a language-lover. Only one year later, I had decided to declare a German major, and I definitely credit German 101 for helping me reach that decision. 


Arthurian Fictions (ENGL 140) – Spring 2018 

I took Arthurian Fictions as my “fun class” for the spring semester of my freshman year. I remember a few harrowing days of add/drop where I had not yet been admitted to the course, but eventually made it in with my friend and now-housemate, Piper. Arthurian Fictions is taught by legendary professor Jennifer Bryan, and the course is so beloved on campus that many of my friends and acquaintances have also taken it at various points in their academic careers. In the course, students read different versions of the King Arthur myth and related stories through time to see how mythology reflects values at the time of their writing. Professor Bryan is an entertaining, engaging lecturer with a dry sense of humor who frequently made me feel stupid, but, like, in the best way possible. One minute, she would be geeking out about the Oxford English Dictionary, and the next she would be telling us about the turkeys she saw in her yard, a symbol of the impending spring. Arthurian Fictions was so good that I considered declaring an English major (indeed, fellow blogger Janelle did just that!). One of my small regrets is that I never had the opportunity to take another class with Jen Bryan, but I remember the course so fondly that it hardly matters.


Social Psychology (PSYC 218) – Fall 2018 

When I say that social psych, taught by Cindy Frantz, literally changed the way I think about situations, groups, and society, I am not exaggerating. Cindy is one of the best professors I’ve ever had at Oberlin. Her lectures are superb, and while I was taking social psych, I found myself thinking about society and people in a completely different way. To this day, I try to remember the power of a situation and how it can affect what people do or don’t do, and it’s made me more empathetic. Social psychology also has profound implications for how we solve problems, like climate change or getting people vaccinated. I absolutely recommend this course to anyone at Oberlin, regardless of whether you’re a psych major. 


Introduction to Literary Translation: History, Theory, Practice (CMPL 250) – Spring 2019 

Intro to Literary Translation was a course I signed up for on a whim during registration, but it ended up being my favorite course that semester. Professor Stiliana Milkova guided us through an entire semester of translation theory, a field I didn’t really know existed before taking the course, but eventually became fascinated by. I was so into this course that I eventually enrolled in a translation poetry course and have even submitted my work for publication and to competitions. This class taught me to think about literary theory in a new way, and also gave me a lot of confidence with humanities and theoretical writing that I hadn’t yet developed. My mom even got to sit in on the class when she visited me in Oberlin and loved it too! 


Self-Destructive Behaviors (PSYC 425) – Fall 2019 

If social psych changed the way I thought about society, then this seminar on self-destructive behaviors changed the way I thought about mental illness, or psychopathology, the more jargon-y term. Taught by Professor Ken Allen, over the course of the semester we learned about many components of many different disorders, though this class went beyond diagnostic criteria. The course was very focused on transdiagnostic factors, or various personality traits, themes, and symptoms that are present across different psychiatric diagnoses. I learned a lot about research, clinical psychology, and ultimately changed the way I think about and approach mental illness. I now have a much more nuanced understanding of psychopathology than I did before, a perspective I hope to bring to clinical practice someday. 


German Writer-in-Residence (GERM 315) – Fall 2019 

Every semester, Oberlin’s German department has a Writer-in-Residence, a German-speaking author who lives in Oberlin for a semester and teaches a small class to German students. In fall 2019, Oberlin brought poet Nora Gomringer to campus. Nora taught every Thursday night, sharing her own work, poems, film, art, and miscellaneous cultural phenomena with a small group of adoring students. Nora was basically the definition of cool, and I was a total fangirl. Coincidentally, Nora was doing a book tour and came to Berlin the following spring when I was abroad there. I attended the event to surprise her, and she was so happy to see me and even invited me to dinner. The timing was auspicious, because literally the next day, I found out that my program had been cancelled due to the pandemic. I let her know and thanked her for the event the previous night, and she even offered to host me in her house in Bamberg if I got stuck in the country. She was a talented, mega-cool author and I still can’t believe sometimes that the college provided the opportunity to meet and study with her. 


Magic and Mystery in the Ancient World (CLAS 201) – Fall 2020 

This one speaks for itself. This class, taught by Professor Drew Wilburn in the Classics Department, was my “fun class” last fall. In the class, we learned about practices of magic and cultic worship in antiquity, mostly in Greece and Rome. I learned a lot about witches, amulets, mystery cults, and even wrote a cursed tablet against the pandemic with a group. I had some delightfully weird readings, and it was the perfect light class for a stressful semester. 


Developmental Psychology (PSYC 216) – Spring 2021

This semester, I am taking developmental psych with Travis Wilson. Though a required course for my major, I am really enjoying it. Professor Wilson does an amazing job of creating an engaging class environment on Zoom. We’ve learned fascinating things about development, more than I ever knew there was to learn, and now I don’t know if I’ll ever think of babies and children in the same way ever again (I mean this in a good way)! This course also has the rather unfortunate consequence that I really want to be working with little kids again, but the pandemic has definitely put a strain on those options. Luckily, this itch is scratched by getting to watch a lot of documentaries about babies and little kids, the most adorable class component I’ve ever had.


Global Indigenous Health (ENVS 228) – Spring 2021 

During my last semester, it was a goal of mine to take a class in a department I hadn’t explored before. After scrolling through the extensive course offerings, I settled on Global Indigenous Health in the Environmental Studies Department. I developed an interest in mental and behavioral health in Indigenous communities during my second year Winter Term, when I was shadowing psychiatrists in my hometown. The class has helped me learn a lot about what healing and sovereignty mean for Indigenous communities and how these spheres are connected. The course is very free-form and we’ve engaged with a lot of Indigenous film and art, which has been really interesting. I’m pondering a lot about how to bring decolonization efforts into my academic work, as well as into my future career path. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to engage with this department and this topic. 


And there you have it! A long yet not exhaustive list of my favorite classes I’ve taken at Oberlin! There were many more that were great, and I can say that there are truly very few classes at Oberlin I’ve taken that I actively disliked, if any at all. While I’m sad that I won’t get to take more in the future, I’m so thankful for where my academic journey has taken me. If I got anything out of my college experience, it’s that I learned how to learn, and I know how I like to learn. And that’s better than anything any course could have ever given me. 

Responses to this Entry

Yet more evidence that paying for your tuition was money well spent! xoxo Mom

Posted by: Judy Bieber on April 7, 2021 11:43 PM

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