{ Ask a Friend: Winter Term Edition }

Welcome to the second installment of Ask a Friend, in which four of my fellow Obies share their thoughts on the ups and downs of college life. This post's theme is WINTER TERM!

And now, some introductions...

Julia and I met through Students United for Reproductive Freedom (SURF), and I'm so lucky to be her friend! Hailing from outside of Boston, she is a Psychology major and prospective Hispanic Studies minor. Julia is involved with Oberlin Students in Solidarity with Guatemala, has worked at a lifeguard at the pool in the gym, eats in Pyle Co-op, and is one of two new co-chairs of SURF this semester!!

Lauren has been one of my longest friends at Oberlin, since we lived on the same hall in Kahn last year! An Anthropology and Musical Studies major with an Ethnomusicology concentration, she hails from a little town near Madison, Wisconsin. At Oberlin, Lauren is involved with gamelan and is a member of the Oberlin dressage team!

Hannah has become a good friend since we met in SURF this year! She's a first-year from Brooklyn, New York, and is interested in studying Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. Hannah volunteers at the Eastwood Outdoor Classroom and the Oberlin Bike Co-op. Starting this semester, she will work with Julia as the other new co-chair of SURF!

Kira is me! Hello! I'm including myself in this edition of Ask a Friend, since I want to tell you about what I've been up to this month.

From left to right: Julia, Lauren, Hannah, and me! Photos courtesy of those pictured!

1) What did you do for Winter Term?

Julia: I stayed on campus and did a Food Justice Fellowship at Oberlin Community Services with seven other students. OCS offers food assistance and other social services to Oberlin residents, as well as to surrounding communities. The fellowship consisted of three parts: working volunteer shifts at OCS's food pantry and front desk, splitting into working groups to spend time on new or pre-existing community projects, and a weekly reading group led by our supervisor in which we read about and discussed systems of oppression in America.

Lauren: I interned at a music supervision company in Brooklyn, NY!

Hannah: For Winter Term, I was an intern for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. This organization works to protect and uphold the rights of all pregnant people, especially those most targeted by our justice system (low-income people, people of color, and drug-using people).

Kira: Upon leaving for college, I became really interested in where children of gay parents (like me!) fit into the LGBTQ community as adults if they don't identify as queer. I researched the topic further for a class last semester and realized that not much has been written about people with queer parents - I want to change that! So, for Winter Term, I decided to study this topic by making a documentary about it. I received a generous grant from the Office of Winter Term that helped me to buy a camera! I conducted several interviews on camera, and spent a lot of my time researching how youth with gay, lesbian, and bisexual parents have been represented in books and documentaries. Though I didn't get very far on the documentary's actual production, this project was valuable in that it allowed me to study a medium that fascinates me - film - through a topic that I'm eager to explore. I plan to continue this project over the semester and through the summer.

2) What did your typical day look like?

Julia: It's hard to describe a typical day at OCS, because the nature of the fellowship was very flexible, and we did a lot of thinking on our feet/jumping on projects when help was needed. Generally, we all worked 12 hours a week in the pantry or at the front desk during OCS's business hours. In the afternoons and evenings, we would have various meetings for our community projects, as well as our weekly reading group. In the working groups I was in, we worked with educators to expand the Backpack Program (which provides weekend food assistance to elementary school students) to Langston Middle School. We also worked with farmers to develop a system for local produce to be donated directly to the OCS food pantry, as well as with the public library to reintroduce a seed banking system. These projects have a much larger scope than any of us expected, and they have already provided us the chance to commit more long-term to community engagement.

Lauren: When I arrived in the morning, I usually had a bunch of emails to reply to from musicians, labels, or music licensing companies. Then I would spend a few hours downloading new music that had been sent out to us from labels or independent musicians and then uploading it to our online database where we keep all our music. Sometimes I would also help digitize CDs and upload them into that database too. If there was a specific job that we were working on that day, I would help look for tracks along with the music supervisors and compile a list of songs I think would be best for the specific project we were working on, whether it be an advertisement or TV show. One of my favorite projects that I got to work on was for a new Netflix animated show that should be coming out sometime next year. It was really fun to be able to read the scripts and then try and find music that matched the director's vision for specific scenes.

Hannah: A typical day at my internship started with a morning program meeting with all of the organization's staff to discuss new projects and court cases, and to talk about the logistics of upcoming events. Each day was different at the organization, but our general work as interns was to assist with things around the office. This usually entailed researching, reading through, and summarizing court cases (that often took place in red states, like Alabama and Tennessee) about pregnant women being incarcerated.

Kira: I didn't have any typical structure to my days this time around. Last year, my internship required a long commute and almost full-time work, so I wanted to slow down a bit. Most of my days were spent at home, reading books and watching documentaries about LGBTQ families. I also wrote questions for participants and filmed interviews for my project, which involved setting up my camera in various locations. I passed many hours fiddling with my new camera and learning how to deal with different lighting and sound situations!

3) Favorite and least favorite parts of Winter Term?

Julia: The opportunity to volunteer at OCS was invaluable in terms of getting to know the Oberlin community. When we're swamped with coursework and commitments, it's easy to forget that we're guests in Oberlin - it's important to learn from residents who are here for longer than four years. I met more community members than I can count during this month. A challenge for me was personal accountability and time management. In school, I'm used to receiving assignments that come with hard deadlines. This was not necessarily the case during Winter Term. While our supervisors laid out their expectations and acted as resources, we were mainly in charge of creating schedules and action plans for projects. I often found this difficult, not because I wasn't motivated, but because I doubted my ability to take on that much responsibility. My communication skills were tested, as coordinating group meetings and actions is not always my strong suit. But with every new and potentially uncomfortable situation I faced, I became more confident and found it easier to use my time wisely and communicate effectively.

Lauren: My favorite part was getting to listen to so much new music every day as well as getting to see what being in the music industry is really like. Getting to live in NYC didn't hurt either... My least favorite part was probably leaving at the end! It's so hard because Winter Term is so short when you're doing an internship or something you really love. By the end, at least for me, I was just starting to get into the groove!

Hannah: My least favorite part of Winter Term was waking up early! I woke up at 8am each morning to be in the office by 10, which is very early for me! My favorite part was just about everything else. I loved the people I was working with - they were all welcoming and kind, and also so strong and intelligent! It felt really cool to be surrounded by these inspiring people. Also, the work this organization does is crucial to maintaining people's reproductive rights, so it was really awesome to be able to learn about (and take part in) this work.

Kira: My favorite part of Winter Term was definitely getting to spend time with my family. Since I was at home, I got to hang out with them every day, and that was so special! We went to the beach and our favorite restaurant and played a lot of Rummikub, so it was very rejuvenating. My least favorite part was probably keeping myself disciplined about my project. I had a difficult time finding subjects to interview, as many of the people interested were away at college. For that reason, my documentary wasn't able to come together in this short month, which was a little frustrating. But I learned a lot about using my camera and filmed some wonderful people, so I'm thankful for that!

4) Is there anything you wish you had known about Winter Term as a prospective student that you know now?

Julia: The concept of Winter Term can be super daunting, because you have so much freedom in what you can do. I think the best projects are ones that teach you things that you can't learn in the classroom.

Lauren: The Career Center and ObieOpps have a lot of cool internships and they're easy to apply for!

Kira: There are no rules! You really have the opportunity to do anything you can imagine. Oberlin provides many project options, both at school and abroad, and the Career Center has an extensive internship database. But you can also go the individual route and come up with your own ideas - no rules!!

5) Advice for picking a Winter Term project?

Julia: When choosing a Winter Term project, don't worry about picking the one with the flashiest title, or one that you think you "should" be doing. Pick one that interests you and that you feel passionate about, regardless of whether it directly relates to what you are studying or not. If you are truly invested in your project, it will be so much more valuable of an experience and the work you do will be so much more meaningful.

Lauren: Choose something that you know you will love doing for the entire time! Last year I did something that I wasn't as jazzed about as this Winter Term and I sort of regret it.

Hannah: My advice for picking a Winter Term project is to look for something that fits your interests. You will be so much happier doing a project or an internship that aligns with things you are passionate about, as opposed to something that might help you land a good job in a couple years. Also, Winter Term is a great time to explore interests that you might not necessarily be able to explore through academic classes! My mom (who also went to Oberlin) spent one of her winter terms learning how to weave on a farm in Kansas! She had a great time, and loved being able to do something that was unrelated to what she was studying in her classes.

Kira: Think about something you've always wanted to do and do it! Making a documentary has been a dream of mine for a long time. I have to admit, it was a little nerve-wracking to start from scratch without training, but I think I did a fine job! Second piece of advice? Don't be afraid to go outside your comfort zone.

6) What are you looking forward to about the coming semester?

Julia: I'm looking forward to continuing my work with OCS, as well as trying to connect my out-of-classroom experiences with my more conventional learning experiences. Also, I'm looking forward to catching up with my friends and hearing more about their Winter Terms!

Lauren: New classes and seeing my friends!

Hannah: I am looking forward to being back with all of my wonderful Obie friends! It has been really nice to be home with my family, but I miss everyone at school! I am also so excited to live with my roommate again. 5 weeks is a long time to be without someone you love!!! Also, I'm really looking forward to continuing to cultivate an environment in which I can grow and thrive. And more slam poetry events!!!!

Kira: Last semester was tough, so I'm excited for a fresh start! Definitely also looking forward to seeing all my sweet friends and, since I'm done with my natural science requirement, taking ~four~ awesome humanities and social science classes! I have a good feeling about this semester!!


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