Oberlin Blogs

We Talk About Classes With Class

October 23, 2014

Brendan Nuse ’17 and Frances Casey ’17


Don't ask me what I'm majoring in unless you want to hear some crazed half-laughter half-heavy-breathing in response. The truth is, I still don't know. Last year, this seemed totally fine. We were freshmen, nobody asked, nobody knew. Then, seemingly out of the blue, all the other second-years are happy to inform me that they are double majoring in Computer Science and Classics and minoring in Knowing What To Do With Their Lives.

Now, I do have some ideas for what I may major in, so when I am forced to give a real answer to this question, I spurt out a couple of those and rattle off the classes I'm currently taking in an attempt to look like I have a plan. After taking a variety of classes in a lot of different departments last year, I do know that I will not be embarking on a career as a Spanish translator, economist, or Yogini. So I'm not exactly floating aimlessly through the world of academics without a clue.

Luckily, I don't have to declare a major until the end of this year, so I still have a little time to explore my options. And with that, I give you...the classes I'm taking this semester.

HIST 125 - Modern African History

I really like history. It's one of the subjects I'm considering majoring in. So far, I've had very good experiences with the Oberlin History Department.

I really love this class because I had very, very little exposure to African history before taking it. I've since learned a lot about the reasons African countries are the way they are today, as a result of the exploitation of the continent for hundreds of years. The professor is great, and I recommend it to anyone who feels that they know little about African history in comparison to their knowledge of, say, European history.

PSYCH 118 - Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies

This class is an awesome mix of psychology and political science. It explores the micro and macro aspects of conflict, violence, peace, and resolution in our minds and in the world as a whole. It is co-taught by two professors, one from the Politics department and one from the Psychology department. It has prompted me to think critically about my own role in conflict in my life. When I first registered for this class last spring, I didn't really understand why it was cross-listed in the psychology department, but after examining the psychological aspects of peace and conflict, I am so glad that the class turned out to be more than talking about world powers fighting each other.

BIOL 090 - Human Biology

I am not a science person. I will freely admit that I signed up for this class in order to fulfill a graduation credit. However, that being said, I have enjoyed learning more about how the human body (and MY body!) works. I also think all the information I'm learning will come in handy at some point in my life; knowing the structure of a bone has to be useful sometime, right? I appreciate the fact that Oberlin offers classes like this for non-majors, so we don't have to feel like we're taking a science class for no reason. It has as important a place in our education as our English classes and ExCos.

ENVS 204 - Fracking and the Policy Process

Last spring, when I registered for this class, I was frustrated by the fact that I couldn't sign up for most upper-level Environmental Studies classes without having declared an Environmental Studies major (yet another result of my indecisiveness...). Then, this class was added last-minute, and lo and behold, I was able to register.

I have really enjoyed taking this class so far. At the beginning of this semester, I knew next to nothing about fracking, except for some vague ideas that it involved drilling sideways and that it was definitely a bad thing. Well, now I know a lot more about the specific processes involved and why I think it's a bad thing. Though there is still a module left of the class, I already feel a lot more confident in my ability to knowledgeably discuss this controversial topic—which I think is one of the most important skills college can provide!

As for the other stuff I'm doing outside of class: I'm still involved with Students United for Reproductive Freedom, I dine in Harkness (as you may have read about in my last post), and I'm still drowning my sorrows in food from Kim's. I'm not DJ-ing a WOBC show this semester, but maybe in the spring (if anybody can help me come up with a good idea for a new show...). I'm still deciding what I want to do over Winter Term, whether or not I want to study abroad next year, and my major of course. Basically, the theme of this semester is "figuring stuff out."


In our last blog post (about food), I mentioned that I never even thought about asking about food on college tours. That's because I was always thinking about academics. I knew that college classes would be different from high school classes, but I wasn't really sure how they would be. I had heard stories of lecture classes so big that the professor couldn't learn all the students' names, and classes where the only grades were a midterm and a final. But these stories came mostly from people going to big universities who assumed everyone else would go to big universities too. I wasn't really sure how my college experience would differ from that, since many of the schools I was looking at were small liberal arts colleges like Oberlin.

Fast forward three semesters into my college experience and I have yet to have a class with more than 40 students. In fact, I have had seven classes with under 20 students—a change even from my high school, in which we once had to cram extra desks into a classroom in order to accommodate the 30+ people in my Precalculus class. Despite how I often fail to make an effort to interact with my professors, all of them have known my name. I've even had dinner at a professor's house. Most of my classes have had many assignments, though maybe that's at least partially because I've taken a lot of foreign language classes.

Anyway, because I was so interested in academics and obsessively stalked these blogs for years, I've grown very used to the staple blogger post about classes. So let's get into it! These are the classes I'm taking this semester:

CHIN301: Advanced Chinese I

I love Chinese. It's the one thing I can count on to stay consistent in my life. I know that I will spend a substantial chunk of my weekend memorizing Chinese vocabulary words. I also know that I'll enjoy it a lot.

I don't really know what to say about Chinese class itself. We go and we learn Chinese. The class is pretty small, so I've gotten to know my classmates pretty well over the semesters we've had together. The professors are all amazing. One of my prospies asked me what my favorite thing about Oberlin was and I started thinking about how much I loved the Chinese department and I almost cried. This is especially unusual because I haven't really cried in over three years. Basically, Chinese rocks. Take Chinese.

ECON231: Environmental Economics

I'm an Environmental Studies major and I really like economics, so I really like this class a lot. Some of the material can be kind of challenging for those of us who aren't Economics majors, but that just makes it feel super cool once I've managed to figure out how to do a problem. One of my good friends is in this class with me, and we always study together, which is something I always like to do, since I find it a lot easier to understand material once I've talked it over with someone else.

The only problem is that this class and my other environmental studies class have a lot of overlap. This normally wouldn't be a problem, but most of the overlap consists of one class saying something and the other class saying that thing is wrong. This can make things kind of confusing, especially because I haven't really figured out what side I'm on, but it's nice to get two sides of an interesting story.

ENVS206: Urban Political Ecology

This class...where to begin. I went into this class not knowing what it was about. I still don't really know what it's about. I do know that I've learned a lot about commodity chains and the exploitative nature of capitalism and I've read some really thick theory work that I never expected to read. I've also learned about how Beanie Babies represent some kind of financial crisis. A lot of the material in UPE goes over my head, but I still feel like I'm learning a lot. Over the past few days I've been working on research for my final project, which is super open-ended, so I've managed to make it about animals, which is always a plus in my book. A lot of things about this class are a mystery to me, but it's a mystery I'm glad I'm getting to experience.

STAT114: Introduction to Biostatistics

I told myself sometime last year that I wasn't going to take any more math, yet I'm in this class. Apparently that's fine, since, according to my statistics professor, statistics is very different from mathematics since "there are prodigies in mathematics and not in statistics." I'm certainly not a prodigy in either of those areas, which can be kind of frustrating sometimes, since I get a little too intense about school and am convinced I always have to be the best, but I'm glad that I'm pushing myself a little bit outside my comfort zone. I came to Oberlin to get a liberal arts education, and that includes taking classes that stretch me intellectually.

Anyway, the class itself is actually really interesting, since my professor always makes sure to give a lot of interesting and applicable examples. We also have a lab every week and some of said labs have involved flipping coins, which is pretty fun. There's also a project in this class that I managed to make about vegetarianism, which is kind of related to animals, right? Animals are always relevant.

In addition to my main classes, I'm taking Oberlin College Choir (which is technically more than 40 students, so I guess I lied about that before), a great swimming class called Swim Conditioning that just ended, and an ExCo called Eastwood Outdoor Classroom, which involves teaching little kids about plants and stuff and is super fun. After we get back from break, I'll start a tennis class, which should be interesting, since, despite the fact that my mother is a tennis coach, I have absolutely no tennis knowledge or skills.

Overall, my classes are pretty rad, but I'm kind of glad to have a break right now so that I can actually process what's going on in them. Now that I actually have myself together, I'm excited to see what the rest of the semester has in store. Bring on the second half of these classes--preferably with as much animal-related content as possible.

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