A month of cold Ohio winds, twenty hours of 80s car crash videos, fifteen minutes of primal fear on the highway, too many Walmart trips to count, some of the prettiest batches of snow I’ve seen, and I now have one Winter Term on campus under my belt. As I sat in blissful ignorance on the plane ride back from Winter Break, preparing myself to finally tackle Driving School, there was no way I could ever have imagined precisely what was in store for the rest of January. At the end of it all, the only way I can describe Winter Term is a complete fever dream: a small moment in time that will be forever locked between the two semesters that lead me into the beginning stages of adulthood. Maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but hey, it was quite a ride.
All students have to complete three separate annual Winter Term projects throughout their time at Oberlin, either choosing from a wide variety of options offered by the college or crafting a project on their own to be sponsored by a member of the faculty. I decided that I wanted to ease into my first year of Winter Term, choosing an on-campus group project that didn’t seem to require any permanent interest or commitment to a specific field. I was testing the waters, so to speak.
On my hunt for potential options, I began to remember the sentiments I had received from some of my suburbanite friends about the fact that I had never gotten a driver’s license. In New York City, Driver’s Ed is thought to have come from an ancient, far-off school system that only our parents seem to remember enduring. If you happened to have a family member who lived in Long Island, maybe you’d get to drive around a cul-de-sac for a few hours over the summer until your aunt thought you were ready for the test. If not, driving didn’t seem like a pressing issue. We never went through the experience of being handed keys for the first time and being greeted with the once-in-a-lifetime feeling of overwhelming freedom wash over us. We’d been taking the subway anywhere we wanted since middle school.
Upon arriving at Oberlin, I started to realize that there were a lot more people my age than I realized who had mastered this fine art of controlling a high-speed death machine pelting through the country. And my parents used this entirely to their advantage. As soon as I mentioned Driving School, they were set on this being one of the best first-year opportunities I could take advantage of. They had me convinced pretty early on that this was true. What better way to make use of my time off? How hard could it be?
The behind-the-wheel time so far has consisted of two hours on the road with my instructor, a short portion of it going sixty-five miles per hour on the highway! It was probably the scariest thing I’ve done, but I made it! I’ve been on the highway! And now I just have eight more hours to go at the beginning of the Spring Semester. The classroom instruction was a little less exciting, but it felt very Oberlin-appropriate to be sitting at a wheely-chair eating an Azzy’s avocado bagel (hot tip during winter term: order your avocado bagels well before lunchtime—it’s everyone for themselves when the chaos of 1:30 ensues). It was reassuring to know that a whole classroom of students my age had no idea what “protected turn” meant or how many seconds of following distance to leave between you and the car in front. Now we all do, and I’m well on my way to getting my license!
As for the times when I wasn’t labeling stop signs or gripping the steering wheel tighter than a boa constrictor around a squirrel, I can safely say that the inner depths of my lazy self thrived. After the week of classroom instruction, there were no deadlines to meet or things to be on time for (other than lunch and dinner; making it to the dining hall regularly in time for breakfast was a pipedream). I enjoyed sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s car on the way to Goodwill, actually starting to understand what all the signs meant and why she kept turning her head over her shoulder to change lanes. We even ended up finding a great smoothie place in the same area. Even the spills did not disappoint.
My friends and I ended up watching about fifteen different movies over this month, all under my lofted bed and into the wee hours of the morning. Every night I’d go to bed knowing I had the whole day ahead of me to spend doing whatever I wanted, for however long I chose. Ultimately, that was the most rewarding and challenging part of the month. I didn’t fully comprehend just how much Winter Term would snap me into the reality of what it is to live without a structure naturally following a schedule that’s already been created for you. Accomplishing any writing I wanted to get done, practicing guitar, and meeting up with friends all relied on my ability to deal with this newfound autonomy that wasn’t as strikingly present through Fall Semester. Don’t get me wrong—living on my own for the first time in the fall was its own extreme shift that I could write a whole book about in and of itself. But this unscheduled time was something I didn’t anticipate getting used to.
Now, I’m pretty glad I know how to deal with it. And yeah, most days, I didn’t get up before noon. But I had fun figuring it all out, even during the messy bits. Even while finding myself standing at the fridge eating peanut butter and jelly out of a jar. I learned that I can find joy in the simplest of things, especially in the quiet time before the storm of whatever Spring Semester will bring. I never would have anticipated learning how to cope with a roommate who has lost complete control over her ability to restrain herself from talking about the JFK assassination for hours on end. Seriously, she should enter some kind of competition. Without Winter Term, though, she may never have had the opportunity to delve into such a niche—especially not in a class setting. To think that I could’ve wasted time at home wondering how to kill time all day for a month instead of driving or listening to her charming rants really helps me to appreciate just how unique these experiences are. While I can’t predict what’s in store for me in the spring, I know I’m a lot more prepared for any weird changes that might end up happening because of this month’s experiences. And now I know how to enjoy every second of it.
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