Oberlin Blogs

Brain Soup, Part One

October 25, 2013

Ida Hoequist ’14

It's finally here: the term that I'm not taking more classes than I can handle. It's all part of this new plan I have - I call it 'sanity.' So far, it's... working? I can't believe I'm writing that?

student looking perplexed with the text "how did I do that? Why not 3 years ago?"
Heck, why not SIX years ago?

Ideally, I would actually be taking one less class, and I thought long and hard about dropping one, but I kept going in circles because they're all so good! "Well, I can't drop this one. What about this one? No, impossible. The next one? No can do. The next? No? Okay, I'm back at the first one. I already decided I can't drop it." And so forth.

My first class is one I've mentioned before, Afro-Germans in Global Contexts. If you read that and went "sorry, what?" you're not alone - like five people know anything about it. (That's only a slight exaggeration. The field is tiny. I've been taking German seminars every semester since I came to Oberlin and I've never even heard it mentioned.) It's so unknown partially because, within German departments, it's going up against a long, strong tradition of internationally renowned literature and thinkers, and when was the last time diaspora studies took precedence over classical literature? But also: it's still in its infancy. The term Afro-German was coined in 1984 by Audre Lorde (did you know she spent a lot of time in Germany?) because there literally was no word for that identity and experience. There was no way to talk about it. So, you know, no one talked about it. It's still not talked about much.

There are cultural barriers there: talking about anything related to the Third Reich was utterly taboo after the war ended, and race was played up so tremendously by the Nazis that it still hasn't un-taboo-ified. (The thinking also goes: "If we never name or discuss it, it doesn't exist, right? Racism is something the Americans talk about. We don't have that here.") In fact, the word for race in German, Rasse, is so taboo when applied to humans that when my professor was explaining its history and connotations in class, she had to take a second to steel herself before she could say the word in German. And it was uncomfortable for me to hear.

Student worried with the word "Rasse
Ughhhh it's really straaaange and I don't liiiike it

Anyway, so this is a small but extremely important field, and I'm stoked to be hearing stories of German culture I've never had access to before. I may or may not have already bought a book to read in conjunction with this class because our professor casually mentioned it and I just want to stuff as much of this brand new knowledge into myself as I can. Also, it's a fascinating book. I may or may not have already read it.

And the academic awesome doesn't end there! I'm also in a psycholinguistics seminar that's being taught by a professor fresh out of grad school. I wanted so badly for this to be a mad good class that I worried all summer about the prof - but I had to take the class. Unfounded worries aren't grounds to turn down a course that promises to show me linguistics material from a new perspective. (Yes, I know what the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is; no, I hadn't read a bajillion empirical psych studies attempting to test it. Now I have. There are so many ways in and degrees to which language can impact thought, guys. So many. And none of them are reliably testable.) Fortunately, our newly minted professor is open to suggestions on the amount and kind of assignments we do, and is turning out to be an adept facilitator of discussion, so the class is well tailored to the group of students taking it. (Read: it's mad good.) It also doesn't hurt that we are hands down the most talkative seminar I've been in yet. Everyone does the readings, everyone has opinions. We actually don't often disagree, as a group, but when we do, we do it about interesting things and in respectful, interesting ways. Why did I ever bother to take anything besides upper-level seminars?

My third full-credit class is a private reading I'm doing with my advisor in Old Icelandic (!!!), which is all kinds of exciting. I have the biggest crush on Icelandic phonemes. I also have a textbook with problem sets, lessons, and readings, and I have some grammars and dictionaries, both in a mix of German, English, and Icelandic. Plus the stack of flashcards I'm making as I go along. I'm so ready for this knowledge. Trade routes by ship from North America to the Middle East via the Baltic? Human sacrifice? Dragon-killing sagas on runestones? Women divorcing their husbands and setting out on expeditions that surpass anything the men did? Get in my head, Old Icelandic.

Student with flash cards in mouth and in hands
Insert battle cry here

I don't take back what I said about wanting to only take seminars, but really, I only want to take private reading seminars. I can literally do whatever I want for Old Icelandic, as long as it's worthwhile and my advisor agrees. We meet up every Friday morning to go over that week's chapter, I read some bits of sagas out loud so that he can correct my pronunciation, and we fangirl together about how cool this is. Where by 'this' I mean 'Old Icelandic' and 'Norse culture' and 'this private reading' and 'the fact that this private reading is allowed.' Thanks, Oberlin.

For the third year running, I'm also in the German Writer-In-Residence Seminar, which is exactly what it sounds like. Every fall, the department hosts a poet or author (and last year also a puppeteer), who teaches a half-credit evening class on their own work. The experience varies wildly from year to year, but it's always incredible. I'm still digesting and clarifying what I absorbed last year and the year before - I'll probably be processing it for the rest of my life, honestly. I hesitate to say that these seminars are the most important classes of my Oberlin career, but I do think that this sort of learning - art taught by the artist - is an education unlike any other. I'm addicted.

To round out the course load, for another half-course's worth of credits, I'm going into my seventh semester of conservatory flute lessons. They're student-taught, as usual, but that's fine by me, as usual. Any flute player in the Con is plenty qualified to teach me, and it's very cool to learn so much from my peers. Something about peer-to-peer knowledge transfer feels very cool. Like, yeah, young people DO know things! We CAN do things! It feels good.

(And then I remember that I'm a young person and very soon will have to prove to the job market that I, too, can do things. What happened to CS? Why am I not doing Real Things? Tell me again why I'm trying to be nice to myself instead of knuckling down inhumanly so that some employer will fall in love with me? Suddenly college seems frivolous. I've never had a single internship. I'm doomed.)

Student looking worried with the texdt: "ohdearohdearohdear"

...Enough with the needless hyperventilation. One last bit of important information: my highly knowledgeable German professor is Marina Jones, my already-wise psych professor is Paul Thibodeau, and my fellow Old Icelandic nut (a.k.a. advisor) is Steve Huff. If you are a person who is deciding on Oberlin classes, I highly recommend anything and everything they teach.

Bonus question: I've got one more semester on this campus. Who do I absolutely need to take a class from? Is there a way for classes to prepare me for the Real World? Have I left something out that you want to know about? Leave a comment if you have strong feelings.

Student pointing down
This is my first time making gifs, you guys! I am having a little too much fun with them!

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