Some numbers to summarize what I accomplished this past month:
225 – average number of minutes I spent per day working on my project
8 – number of pens I went through translating passages and doing exercises
236 – number of pages I wrote
7 – probable number of hours I spent listening to music from Miyazaki movies
1 – number of times I read Goethe’s Faust
6 – number of hours I spent discussing Faust with at least seven retirees (and my mom <3 )
1.3333 – number of books I worked through
4 – number of Rilke’s elegies I read on the plane back to Ohio
100 – approximate number of times I tried to get our neurotic foster German shepherd to get back into the house and for the love of god to stop hoarding his rubber balls
Now, to elaborate.
For those readers who don’t know, Winter Term is a month-long opportunity for Oberlin students to pursue projects, do internships, volunteer, etc. People do some fascinating things! Some examples of projects my friends did include: learning to play the lute, rehearsing a play that performs this semester, dancing and writing poetry in San Francisco, and traveling to Sicily to learn about politics and history surrounding the Mafia.
While my winter term was maybe less exciting than the ones I listed above, I learned a lot of German, and embarking on a self-directed project kept me from turning into a jabba-the-hut-esque figure (mentally and physically) during the month of January. On an average day, I worked with one of two books my German prof from last semester lent me (11/10 would take a class with Steve Huff again). The book I started with began with very simple and short passages, and eventually progressed into longer fairy tales and fables, like “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” or “Hänsel and Gretel.” One of my favorite stories was about this couple whose marriage is almost destroyed by their argument over whether a fledgling bird they find is a sparrow or a nightingale (turns out, it was a sparrow and the wife was right, even though she wasn’t the head of the household). Each of these passages had questions associated with them, so I got to write in German as well as reading and translating it. I worked all the way through the first book (rivetingly titled Graded German Reader) and got about a third of the way through the second, which was called Der Weg zum Lesen (The Path to Reading). This one had short stories written by German authors, often excerpts from larger books. I really enjoyed reading these, because they introduced me to more grammatical constructs (teaching yourself the subjunctive is fun!!) and the stories were more interesting. One of them was one of the most bizarre tales I’ve encountered. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but let’s just say that a story that proceeds in a fairly normal and measured way ends with a man killing his wife and practicing self-defenestration in the very last paragraph, all because of a very important family book. It was wild.
Another fun component of my winter term was rather serendipitous. My younger sister is a freshman in high school, and her English teacher, Hughlings Himwich (yes, that is his real name), holds a weekly/bi-weekly literature seminar for Albuquerque community members. Hugh is a character. This man is reminiscent of Dumbledore, or perhaps Gandalf. He provides his students with tea, cookies, and a capacious purple beanbag inside of a tractor tire. He sits in a rocking chair bedecked in the four Hogwarts house scarves, wears a red scarf, tooled leather suspenders, and tiny round glasses, and knows more about Classics than most humans should. This month, the seminar happened to be reading Goethe’s Faust, one of the most famous German works ever. While I definitely don’t have enough German to read it in its original form, I thought getting a first glimpse of this text was a great idea, and too great an opportunity to pass up. It took me until the third week of a once-a-week seminar to finally speak, because this seminar was full of intimidatingly brilliant—albeit very friendly—retirees. Faust is a complex and rich work, and the time I devoted to it over winter term did not do it justice. One could spend their entire academic career on that work alone, so to read it and spend a total of 6 hours discussing it wasn’t nearly enough! However, if I continue on with German, I know that having read this text will be great for me, because I am likely to encounter it again.
Overall, winter term was a really good experience. I had a lot of alone time, and I learned a lot of German. I proved to myself that I am disciplined enough to complete a self-directed project. While being at home for 6.5 weeks was really nice, it was also hard once I started to miss my Oberlin friends and life. In other words, I am glad I stayed home this time, but I don’t know if I will do so again (sorry, family). I am looking forward to future winter terms, and I can’t wait to see what they bring!