One feature of Oberlin that is different from many other schools is a special period of time called Winter Term. For the month of January, students at Oberlin complete a project of their choosing under the guidance of a sponsor at the college. As long as a professor or staff member will sign off on the project, pretty much anything is fair game -- from intensive study of a language, to learning a new instrument, to exploring a different country, completing a photography project, or trying out an internship. All Oberlin students complete a minimum of three Winter Terms, and they can be individual or group projects, on-campus or off-campus.
In the middle of the semester, it can be tricky to figure out what you want to do for Winter Term, especially as a first-year student. For that reason, I’ve compiled some helpful tips and tricks for making the most of your Winter Term:
Use the time to strengthen old connections or build new ones.
My first Winter Term, I interned at the domestic violence prevention center in my hometown. I had been a part of their student club at my high school, so I was close with the director. At that point in my time at Oberlin, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in or what career path I was leaning towards. I did know that I wanted to learn more about non-profits and that I was interested in gender violence prevention. I sent the director an email and she was happy to have me back for the month. I spent my time learning more about the organization and doing things that ranged from basic office tasks to facilitating a training about healthy relationships back at my high school.
An internship back home is a great option for a first-year for a couple of reasons. You’re likely to still have close friends and relationships that you want to maintain, or maybe you’re a little homesick and want more time with your family. Winter Term is a great time to go back to your roots and spend time with those people. It’s also a great opportunity to transition from a student to a young professional in the eyes of past high school employers or teachers. The director I worked for offered me a summer job following my Winter Term internship because she was able to see how I had grown and what I had to offer the organization as an employee.
Take advantage of having an extra month to pursue a new place.
I had never been outside of the country before coming to college. I knew I was interested in studying abroad but I wanted a trial period before committing to an entire semester. I also wanted to improve my Spanish so that I could apply for a more linguistically rigorous study abroad program, and try to skip a level of Spanish for the next semester. Winter Term was perfect to accomplish all of these goals. I traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, with a group of Oberlin students and professor to live in a homestay and complete an intensive language study for the month. It was a great experience for a first international trip, and prepared me to study abroad in Santiago, Chile, the following fall.
Winter Term is a great time to explore a new place, whether that’s a different country or a different city. I have a few friends who are staying with alumni or family and friends and trying out different cities this month, to see if it’s a place they’d want to live after graduation. A month can be a great trial period, and a good way to find a change of pace from Oberlin, Ohio.
Understand how much time you have in a month.
My third Winter Term was spent entirely at Oberlin. I had spent the previous fall abroad, and wanted time to re-acclimate to Oberlin. I had a lot of down-time while I was abroad, and vastly overbooked myself for my Winter Term. Not only did I commit to a Winter Term through the Bonner Center for Service and Learning, I was planning on learning a new event for track and field, volunteering for a youth track and field program, working my on-campus job, and applying for fellowships. This, plus catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in eight months and getting enough sleep, turned into a crazy month. I barely had time to get my project done, and I was constantly running from place to place. I wrote a bit about this in an old blog post, which you can read here.
In hindsight, I wish I had picked a slightly more restful project than a service project. Even the smallest of commitments (2 hours of work per day, 1 hour per week of volunteering, etc) add up, and one of the benefits of Winter Term, in my book at least, is that it should be a way to re-charge for the next semester. It’s tempting to load up your schedule with things to do, but remember to prioritize your actual project and set goals for how long you want to work on it each day.
Make time for a passion.
I mention that I wish I had picked a different project in my third year – if I could do it again, I would have worked on a poetry chapbook or practiced the guitar. Poetry and music are two things I love and am passionate about, but they often get left to the wayside in the craziness of the semester. Winter Term is all about learning or trying something new, and that doesn’t have to mean something that is practical for your career path. Do you have a writing project you’ve been wanting time to work on? Is there a subject that isn’t taught at Oberlin that you’ve always wanted to study? Find a way to pursue that. You can never go wrong in trying to learn where your passions lie.
Oberlin has a lot of resources to help with finding and even funding a Winter term. There are lots of opportunities to complete a Winter Term out of the country, and many of them have scholarships or are subsidized by the groups that run them. You can also apply for individual project funding from the Office of Winter Term, but you have to prepare early to make the deadlines for this. Another resource is the Career Center. The Career Center can help put you in touch with alumni who might be willing to host you in a different city or country through Wisr, which can help reduce the cost of living expenses.
For my last Winter Term, I am spending the month working on my honors thesis and applying for jobs post-graduation, in addition to my usual track and field practice and competition schedule. It’s generally been a very peaceful and very productive month, and I’ve enjoyed having time to work slowly and thoughtfully on my thesis – as well the chance to write a few more blog posts than usual!