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Navigating Winter Term as a First-Year

December 29, 2021

Ariel Roberts ’25

To many first-years Winter Term is a foreign concept despite its being a defining feature of Oberlin. There are many incoming students who choose Oberlin with Winter Term in mind, but for me, it was something I hardly considered. I had heard about it but did not fully understand what it was or what it entailed. I did not truly start learning about it until I came to Oberlin, and I suspect this is the case for a fair portion of other first-years as well.

Due to the shortened semester, it was thrown at us first-years rather quickly. Even with helpful explanation and support from our Peer Advising Leaders (PAL), the information was rather overwhelming, and the impending Winter Term sign-up deadline intimidating. I remember walking slowly around the Winter Term Fair in the Science Center, trying to gain my bearings and investigate the variety of group projects offered this year. I first saw some study-abroad projects, and was surprised and impressed to see trips to Guadalajara, Gambia, and Senegal. While seeming like fun and amazing opportunities, for me, they were a bit much to take on my first year. There were also many language-learning projects that caught my attention, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take on the intensive though rewarding venture. I felt a bit disappointed after the fair, not seeing anything that immediately struck me as what I wanted to do. If you feel the same looking at the Winter Term fair, that’s okay. There’s even more projects in the Winter Term catalog, and you can always create your own project.

Wondering if I might want to go the route of a solo project, I attended one of the weekly Winter Term individual project workshops on Zoom. The Winter Term advisors were incredibly helpful and informative, and it also comforted me to see a fair amount of people from all class years in the same boat as me, trying to learn more about the steps they should take and what they might want to do for the winter time. Don’t feel like even after consulting resources you have to know immediately what you want to do, though. Attending the workshop actually made me realize that I didn’t really want to do an individual project. I felt like for my first year I should explore the group projects offered and see what campus is like during this time, as I’ve heard it has a different vibe from the other semesters. It was definitely a process to figure out what I wanted to do, but having explored the different options this year, I hope my decision process will go smoother in future years.

Eventually I settled on doing the on-campus group project of learning to play the Viola da Gamba. An important thing to remember when choosing your Winter Term project is that this is your time to explore, to do something different. You can do practically anything you want, so take advantage of that! Since I’ve wanted to take a Conservatory class and explore some of the amazing musical opportunities, and also because I miss when I used to play in band in middle school, this group project was a great choice for me to try something different from my classes and area of study. While the Winter Term decision process was a bit intimidating at first, I’m pretty satisfied with what I chose and am excited to see what Winter Term is all about!

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