Oberlin Blogs

Ways of Being

February 6, 2012

Eleanor Bronder-Major ’15

Can I take a moment to express my happiness that classes have started back up? It even feels like September again--plus a nostalgic anticipation for Selena that is frustrated every time I enter the dining room, but never mind. Nevertheless, I started worrying immediately I woke up about the logistics of Add/Drop and my chances of Add/Dropping certain classes. By the time I was climbing the stairs of the King building to the first of the English Classes I Am Unqualified For, my teeth were chattering, although February promises to be just as unseasonably warm as January was.

Globalization and the Post-National Narrative: Those who were around when I was speculating on course selection back in early October might remember my explosive glee over the prospect of actually taking a class that would study David Mitchell. My glee over this course has not ended after the first class; it promises to be a thoughtful, interdisciplinary (two of my favorite adjectives when applied to courses I'm enrolled in) look at the way we are shaped by the world. Plus, the very first thing on the course outline is a quote from Gravity's Rainbow!

The Nature of Value: An introductory philosophy class. I've never actually taken a formal philosophy class, so this should be nice.

Jewish Memoirs and Memory: I'm mainly taking this because it's taught by my advisor, Shulamit Magnus. I haven't actually been yet--it starts tomorrow.

Home and Abroad: This class seems like a nice complement to Globalization and the Post-National Narrative. While Home and Abroad is focusing on the development of a sense of nation in a post-colonial world, Globalization is examining the breakdown of a sense of nationhood as globalization erases national boundaries. I dropped Bio 102 in order to take this class: my first Add/Drop, and it went very smoothly!

I feel like I should apologize to all the brilliant upperclassmen who are about to spend the next four months alternately not noticing me (my class participation has always left something to be desired) and being taken aback by my ignorance and general gauche-ness (despite the complete lack of any knowledge of the French knowledge on my part, I'm not going to apologize for that word; Dictionary.com says it's a real word.)

It's not like I haven't done this before, though. My first semester here was profoundly tame: I took a nicely mixed bunch of intro-level courses and did all right in all of them (disregarding calculus, which I think we can all agree was a mistake). Last year, however, I took advantage of the brilliant agreement my high school has with Dartmouth College, which allows students who have taken the highest possible level of a course offered at their high school to take courses at Dartmouth College.

I referred to much of that year as Practice in Being Challenged. To be frank, I really needed it. My previous English education had mostly flowed over my brain like a gentle stream (AP English, which I took as a junior, might as well have never even happened). Taking classes at Dartmouth was largely an exercise in intimidation, although I did also learn a significant amount about modern drama, hybrid forms and the Brontë sisters (and, perhaps most significantly, my spell check is now set to automatically put an umlaut above the "e" in Brontë). I suspect that this semester is going to be more of the same sort of heavy-duty learning.

On the one hand, this schedule is definitely different from what I did last semester, and even from what it would have been like if I hadn't dropped Biology. On the other hand, it doesn't really represent a different way of being for me. One of my biggest fears entering college has been that I would continue to stumble along with English. The reason I usually give for this fear is that English is the thing I've always been good at, and I'm scared of being stuck at it only for that reason, without giving myself room to discover other passions.

In reality, my trepidations about the way I usually study English are slightly more complicated. One of the (somewhat backwards) reasons I was excited about going to college was the chance to effect a really substantial change in myself and my thinking, and I don't think that's going to happen overnight, regardless of which classes I add or drop. It's not that I'm in any rush--after all, this is only my second semester of college, and I'm over the moon about the schedule I have planned--but it doesn't represent a real change in my thinking: take high-powered English classes, get a foundation in other fields, attempt to integrate the two worlds into something meaningful. It's just the way I've always done it. These are the classes I would have selected six months ago.

At any rate, it is amazing to return to classes after the bleakness of Winter Term. Towards the last week of January, after my project had ended, I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of ennui and blandness. I tried to write letters only to realize that I had absolutely nothing to say. I wasn't even interested in listening to the Messiah. My neutrality was so great that it was almost a relief when I was awoken on Thursday morning by a pain in my side that eventually necessitated a trip to the ER. I was grateful it was there, just because it was different.

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