The month of January at Oberlin is known as Winter Term. No class is held during the month; instead students must complete three projects (within 4 years) supported by a faculty advisor during the course of the month. Classes then resume in February and continue until the end of May. Winter term is a really special time in the middle of the year, and can encompass a huge number of experiences anywhere in the world. To give a better sense of what January can hold for Oberlin students, I have interviewed three people doing very different winter term projects this month. Some are pre-professional, some are dependent on personal interest or location, and all are extremely exciting.
The first person I interviewed was Post, a fourth-year French major as well as a talented artist and barista at Oberlin’s coffee shop Slow Train. I began by asking Post what they were up to for the month.
B: Hi Post! What are you doing for Winter Term this year?
P: I am in Bordeaux, France, for Winter Term studying intensive French! We have classes every morning 9am-1pm and then usually spend the afternoons wandering or doing a group activity. This week my favorite thing we did was a cooking class. We made risotto with duck.
B: That sounds incredible! How did you find out about this opportunity
P: Julien, the faculty in residence for French House, asked me one morning while I was working at Slow Train if I had been able to study abroad. When I said no, he suggested I apply to the Bordeaux program he was offering - and so I did!
B: How do you feel about doing this kind of experience for the month of winter term? Can you speak to the month-long timing and the fact that you are in Bordeaux in the middle of the year?
P: I think it’s a good taste of study abroad, but I do wish I could stay a whole semester. Unfortunately with covid and sports this was the only doable thing for me. That being said, it's the perfect use of a winter term for someone who’s in the same position as me — you get the “greatest hits” of studying abroad. And my language development has improved so rapidly even in one week. Staying in a homestay is a huge highlight and aid in my French.
I think I might feel the ramifications of not having a long break now during the spring semester later on, but I think a little bit of burnout is worth an experience like this. I also think the trip has a good balance of structured time and unstructured time, so I can recharge on my own if I want.
B: Can you describe a favorite memory from your time in France so far?
P: That’s such a difficult question! Today I played cards with Julien (our faculty advisor) and three other seniors at a cafe next to the Cathédrale Saint-Andre Bordeaux — it was a brisk 55 degrees but super sunny and I think I honestly got sunburnt. It felt like I was in a movie, even though there was nothing super special about playing cards, it was the fact I was forming close connections and laughing effortlessly. Another top moment so far was probably when Clara and I stumbled upon the largest garden in Bordeaux. The greenery was stunning and we walked miles just taking everything in.
While Post is cooking and eating French food, exploring hidden gardens in Bordeaux and roaming Paris, I interviewed Greer, who is currently in San Francisco for a month-long internship. I began the interview with a general opener. Greer is a Law and Society major as well as an incredible photographer, avid reader and splendid Co-op chef.
B: What are you up to for this year’s Winter Term?
G: I am interning at an immigration and asylum legal clinic at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the UC College of Law in San Francisco. I’m doing country conditions research for fear-of-return cases coming out of El Salvador.
B: That sounds like really challenging work. How did you find out about the internship?
G: It is sponsored by the Career Exploration and Development office at Oberlin, and my advisor in the Law and Society department sent me the information.
B: Though you’re only halfway in, what’s been the best part of the experience so far?
G: My favorite part…getting to know the other staff here at CGRS, they’re such powerhouses and women with amazing stories and careers. They give a lot of good advice about making the decision to go to law school.
B: Do you feel like the internship is changing the way you’re thinking about your own future with/without law school?
G: Definitely. Before I wanted to go to law school just to go, but now I’m realizing it can be a way more valuable experience to have a plan and a reason to go. It’s a professional degree rather than an open-ended degree. I still don’t have my mind made up about whether I want to go or not, but I plan on using the next 5 years to make that decision.
B: It's great you get to work with and get advice from people you admire. I have one last question. How does this Winter Term compare to other projects you’ve done during January?
G: Let me try to remember. For my first year I did another legal internship where I shadowed a judge at the district court in my hometown and helped coach his mock trial team. During my second year we both did SOAR. Third year I didn’t get to do one because I left during January to begin my study abroad semester.
B: For the readers, SOAR was a pre-professional winter term program offered to students over Zoom during a January at the height of COVID. After attending a series of professional workshops with Oberlin faculty and staff and most of the sophomore class, we were each placed with an internship matched to our professional interests.
G: Any last questions?
B: No but I’m excited for you to get back to Oberlin--see you soon!
Though the winter term blog is becoming very travel-heavy, which may not be the most direct reflection of every student’s experience with J-Term, my friends are all doing really interesting things. Regardless of how close or far away from campus, their projects deserve an interview. For instance, Caitlyn, a fourth-year at Oberlin and advocate for reproductive justice, was generous enough to answer all my winter term questions.
B: Hi Caitlin, what are you doing for winter term this year?
C: I’m taking a public health class in Amsterdam examining and comparing public health systems between Dutch, other EU countries, and the US.
B: Amsterdam! How are you liking the program so far?
C: It’s been so fun! I’m getting a global health concentration at Oberlin so it’s been really interesting to get to take a much more intensive class on global health policies. It’s only a month but it’s four hours a day so we’re going through a lot of material really quickly which is a bit intense, but I’m glad we’re getting to cover a lot of different topics. The Netherlands is known for having high-quality healthcare but it’s been really interesting to be able to examine the critiques of the Dutch system. The US is miles behind in terms of the accessibility and affordability of health care, but it’s cool to learn how much more is necessary even in a place that is supposed to have really strong and comprehensive support. It's also heavily based in reproductive care so it’s been particularly interesting to get to research a place that offers strong family planning services, sexual education at a young age, and free abortion with health insurance. And outside of class I’ve gotten to know a really incredible group of people and we’ve been having an absolutely blast exploring the city and wandering about!
B: There’s so much going on between classes and travel but it sounds really impactful. Can you speak to taking part in such a program during the month-long period of winter term?
C: I knew I wanted to study abroad but because of COVID hitting us when it did it made it hard for me to take a whole semester to study abroad, so I’m really happy about having the time during winter term to get a mini version of studying away. Now that I’m here I'm loving it so much, but it does make me a little bit sad I didn’t get a whole semester, but I’m still getting a good taste of getting to go on a study away program. That said, it's a little bit intense just because of the rigorousness of an intensive class and the burnout of going from finals at Oberlin, having like a week of break, and then starting classes for winter term on January second so I didn’t get a huge break. That said, class ends at 3 so we get a good amount of time to play and hang out so I'm also getting a little bit of vacation. But there is a part of me that wishes it wasn’t in January because it is so rainy and gray. I’m grateful for the experience but wish it were a little sunnier and a little warmer, but we are in the middle of winter in the Netherlands.
B: True, but the gray weather is also a good reflection of changing seasons and everyday life if you were to live in Amsterdam. Is traveling and studying in the Netherlands affecting any living/working plans you might have for the future?
C: Because I grew up in Africa, I’ve always known I wanted my career in reproductive health to take me overseas. I’ve always envisioned doing work in East Africa and reconnecting with where I grew up and hadn’t really considered basing myself in Europe. That said, after learning about the reproductive services in the Netherlands I would consider doing some midwifery work here as well which opens up my options a bit more. I am looking into midwife accreditation programs and would love to find one in Europe!
B: How did you find out about the classes you’re taking now?
C: My dad works for CIEE (Council for International Educational Exchange) and they run study away programs. I’ve done two study abroad programs with them in high school in France and the Dominican Republic. I was going to go to Germany with them sophomore year to do an internship, but didn’t get to because of COVID travel restrictions. All of this is to say I’ve been doing a lot with this company and get some good scholarships and discounts from my dad and being an alumni of their programs. Since I didn’t get to go abroad during college I really wanted to take advantage of having Winter Term before I graduated and this program seemed incredibly interesting! I’ve also always wanted to come to Amsterdam and two of my friends studied here last year and they seemed to really enjoy it, so it just felt like this program made a lot of sense.
B: What were your other winter term projects? And if you’re willing to go into detail, how does this year compare to the rest?
C: This is definitely the most active winter term project I’ve done. My freshman year I spent my winter term doing an artistic study where I did an artist rendition of old family pictures from my childhood, but I did it from home. Then sophomore year was peak COVID and Oberlin didn’t let me do my own project outside of SOAR because of how COVID impacted the winter term program. I chose not to do SOAR that year because I had my own internship lined up and did not need their support in getting that opportunity. So while I did have an internship it didn’t count towards my winter term credits. Then junior year I started the process of obtaining my Birth Doula Certification. I didn’t fully complete it but I got through most of the online coursework and all that’s left is to support two live births! It was super interesting but it was all online and I also did it from home, so this year is the most adventurous comparatively.
B: Congratulations on working towards a Doula Certification! I have one last question, what is your favorite part so far?
C: I have two answers to my favorite part. The reason this program has been so incredible is largely because of the people on the program with me. I have so much love and adoration for them and it was really fun to get out of the little Oberlin bubble and meet people from all over the US. I am really glad I came on this program individually and was able to make new friends and branch out! I feel really connected to the group of friends I've made and all my favorite memories from the trip are very much because of who I was with. But since that answer is very much case specific - we found a MASSIVE thrift and vintage market on the outskirts of town like two huge warehouses and it was incredible and right next to STRAAT which is a graffiti museum and that was my favorite museum we’ve been to--it's actually incredible!
B: Thanks for the interview! All the work you’re doing sounds remarkable.
The interviews were conducted closer to the middle point of winter term while the transcription, editing and writing of this blog finally culminated today, at the very end of the month. Though the interviews took a turn towards travel, the diversity in content and programming between Greer’s internship, Post’s immersive language experience, and Caitlin’s courses in global reproductive advocacy give an important sense of the vast array of projects undertaken by the Oberlin student body during the month of January. Though many projects do not require travel and some (like mine!) request that the student remain on campus, I have never encountered a winter term project that was not worthwhile or impactful.
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