This summer I spent over 30 hours a week studying a dead language. Yeah, let me explain.
Back in January, I couldn’t picture what I would be doing this summer. At the time, COVID was rampant, Oberlin had just extended winter break in order to decrease the risk of infection once back on campus, and most young people had not been vaccinated yet.
After a summer spent quarantining at home, I had gotten all of the languishing and relaxation out of my system, so I was looking forward to doing something interesting this time around. The trouble was, I didn’t know where to start.
I was scrolling through Instagram one day, which is definitely not the most productive thing I could be doing while bored, according to my parents’ generation: “this is why it takes you four months to finish a book.” I happen to follow a few students who attend different colleges since it is always interesting to see what other students’ experiences are like. This student had posted a scholarship opportunity from her classics department at Harvard and I thought, “Hmm, I like languages, I’ve been reading about recent controversies in the field of classics, so why not give it a go?”
I thought it would be a long shot to get in. After all, it is a world-renowned university and I was sure that tons of more-qualified students had already been informed about the scholarship, but I applied anyway.
A few weeks later, I got an email congratulating me on my acceptance to the program. I was ecstatic! Unfortunately, we would not be able to reside in the dormitories on campus, but I was nevertheless excited to take language classes every day for seven weeks.
The class met for four hours a day, five days a week, for a grand total of twenty hours of online instruction a week. However, we were expected to memorize vocabulary and grammatical concepts from the next chapter, as well as to review and consistently study previous content. On average, I did about two to four hours of extra studying outside of class per day.
The class moved at an alarming pace. We completed a chapter a day, which apparently translated to a week’s worth of content. We finished the first semester within three and a half weeks and began the second semester with our other instructor the day after. It was certainly an intense experience but rewarding nonetheless. I have never been so immersed in a language or any subject before like that (just kidding, Nerd Camp was a thing too, but that’s another story). Luckily, I never grew to resent the program, even while the shouts of neighborhood kids playing basketball echoed from across the street or when my parents occasionally left to go on biking excursions without me.
Pretty soon, I was having dreams about Latin declensions, minotaurs (we started out by reading condensed versions of mostly Greek myths but in Latin), and forgetting my password to Canvas during our daily quiz. I even grew to prefer certain conjugations more over others (1st and 3rd conjugation, active indicative perfect, passive indicative perfect, and the active subjunctive imperfect, thank you very much). By the end of the course, we were reading unedited passages from Caesar’s De Bello Gallico and even a bit of Cicero, which was admittedly a lot trickier. I even learned a fun fact about chickpeas ;)
Even if I don’t end up taking a Latin course this year, I hope to continue studying on my own whenever I can. Something I gleaned from talking to graduate students and other classics enthusiastics is that being a classicist is a lifelong journey that is ever-evolving, whether or not someone ends up pursuing a degree or an academic position within the field.
Besides that, I participated as a mentor in a program for underrepresented students applying to college, started my first term working for the Student Honor Committee, and helped out my neighbors with babysitting and cat-sitting. I also spent time catching up with friends from high school and bicycling a lot.
I’m incredibly grateful that I received the opportunity to do something so engaging this summer. Social media can be a great tool to utilize, especially if you are still working on expanding your network like I am. The next time someone gives you grief for being on your phone too much, just remind them that you’re thinking hard about your future and are on the lookout for your next internship or scholarship opportunity!