At Oberlin, we have this thing called Winter Term.
Winter Term is the time for students to do one project for the entire month of January. For many of us, it's a time to get out of town and have wild adventures. For others, it's a time to focus on the thing they've always wanted to do but never had the chance to.
Winter Term actualizes dreams and answers problems. Winter Term forces you to think in new ways, to do things intensely, or to take a moment to consider.
Here are the best projects I heard about this year, of all shapes and sizes.
"Teaching Skateboarding in Afghanistan" — Robin Comisar
"Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro" — Matt McLaughlin and Will Georges
"Volunteer in Haiti with Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT)" — Illiana Zamorska and Josh Meadow
"Chocolate Farming in Costa Rica" — Eliza Gilmore
Robin, Matt, and Will definitely collect the GUH-WHAT factor (required to qualify as a true ace). But... when I am old, I aspire to write books about Illiana's life. Over the last semester, I got to know Illiana as one of the most honest, wholehearted people I've ever met, who approaches everything from friendships to homework with incredible zeal. I've watched her work on one piece, a sculptural representation of neurological systems, for hours. She's fluent in French, and is composed of a thousand stories. In this case, she was going to be working in Haiti for Winter Term, and after the earthquake, she stayed to be of service.
Photo from Robin teaching in Afghanishan here.
Best On-Campus Project
"Yarn to Garment" (Creating clothing)
"All in the Timing" (A play by David Ives)
"Love's Labour's Lost" (A play by Willy Shakespeare)
"Intimate Apparel" (A play by Lynn Nottage)
Film Winter Term (Analyzing the AFI Top 100 Films)
A Feminist Exploration of the Cinematic Porn Industry (Answering the question: is pornography always degrading to women?)
During Winter Term, there's still a community on campus — it's just much smaller. There are still classes offered, research to do, internships to take, honors projects to work on, and movies to watch. Conservatory students practice more furiously than ever. But there's only one focus for Winter Term, be it an intensive language class (German, Russian, Latin, Greek, etc.), a workshop on Alexander Technique, an internship at the FAVA Gallery in town, shooting an experimental movie on "Amerika," designing a computer game, studying Beginning Electronic Music in the Conservatory, or working on a senior's Dance Honors show.
Two years ago, my friend Grey took an architecture intensive on campus. For about 12 hours a day, he drafted in the Art Building. By the second week, he knew that he absolutely did not want to pursue architecture. Which is a good thing to figure out when you're a sophomore in college, and not when you're already in architecture school.
One of the most amazing things about Winter Term is the amount of theater on campus. Each performance space is transformed. Little Theater, our charming black box, becomes "Navarre College" for a modern-day restaging of Love's Labour's Lost. In Wilder Main, The Last Five Years and All in the Timing struck home.
In Hall Auditorium, Intimate Apparel brought an audience back to 1905, from New York City to Panama. Each set piece moved independently, creating a dollhouse that the main character, Esther, passed though worlds that would otherwise never connect. Intimate Apparel hurt. In the really good way.
The cast of Intimate Apparel. Photo Credit: Lisa Brown.
Most Creative and Leadership-tastic:
"Phakumba Social Development Project" — Sage Aronson, David Ohana and Suman Giri
"Project High School" — Amy Shuangshuang Liang
"Chinese Outdoor School" — Xiao "Connor" Su
"Conflict Resolution and Outreach Project" — Steve Bii
Creativity and Leadership: def. "Open to all Oberlin students, the Creativity & Leadership Project helps to prepare students for the challenges of implementing their own ideas through new semester and module courses, mentored experiential opportunities, workshops, and lectures by alumni and practitioners in northeast Ohio and beyond."
Or, if you have an idea, particularly an entrepreneurial effort, Oberlin will give you the money to make it happen. Not a loan: a grant.
Especially after the popularity of micro-lending, support for social entrepreneurship has grown by leaps and bounds. The idea of creating a profitable business that actually helps people makes most Obies' hearts flutter.
And the ideas people have are unfathomably impressive. Steve is going back to his hometown in Kenya to work with a non-profit group to ease ethnic tensions. Connor is starting an outdoor school; Amy is working to increase arts opportunities in Chinese high schools, which are very testing-focused.
But Suman, Sage, and David went far beyond. The word obsessed only begins to cover their devotion to this project, which splices together their love for sustainability, health care, clean water, and a tiny town in Nepal called Phakumba... to create a "social development model with the long-term goal being self-sustainable public infrastructure."
Most folks walk in with an entrepreneurship proposal. But the golden trio didn't want to start a business, they wanted to test out a model that could change with its surroundings.
The Phakumba Trio! More info here!
"Pulsar Research at Arecibo Observatory"
"Ornithology Research at Point Reyes Bird Observatory"
"Saltmarsh Field Studies at the Marine Lab of Florida State University"
"Field Study of an Active Plate Boundary in California"
The "Active Plate" project, led by Steve Wojtal of the Geology department, looks amazing, especially in Becky Strauss's photos.
But the Pulsar team has to take it: studying physics in Puerto Rico. You remember GoldenEye? The best game ever? The pulsar research project pretty much took place at the dish at the end of the movie: "the world's largest radio telescope."
Says Willie Kunert '12: "The dish is three football fields across, and the telescope which we went up on for many pictures was 500 ft. in the air. By studying the pulsars we hoped to discern details about the interstellar medium. We are part of a large group of astronomers and astrophysicists hoping to detect the existence of gravitational waves."
AWESOME. Photo credit: Will Kunert
Most Physically Intense
SANCA (School for Acrobatics and New Circus Arts)
Swim Team Training
Kamali's Hardcore Dance Honors Project
Though I understand the hardcore-ness of SANCA, and wrote about it at length, swimming is different. In Dan Holm's words: "When I was six, my parents took me to my first swim practice. Thanks to them, I have been competitively swimming for a decade and a half. I've been told I may have grounds for a lawsuit."
He called his blog on the training: "A Masochist's Manifesto."
Here's another section:
"This morning, Mark Fino decided to give us the 'last long set' of Florida. This set consisted of swimming freestyle (with the option of various toys) in the following meterage configuration: 800, 600, 400, 200, 600, 400, 200, 400, 200, 200. For those unwilling or unable to do the math, that adds up to a 4000 meter set, which is in layman's terms 'a long set.'
"Of course, at this point in time, we were not really in the shape or mood to do a long set. Since we were able to use toys, I was able to make it through the set pulling with paddles, which afforded me some more rest at the cost of completely destroying my arms for the rest of the day. It's those little trade-offs that keep things interesting."
That would be "OC" ripped out in chest hair.
No contest: DC!
I haven't been to Washington, DC, since 6th grade, and after assessing the number of times I'd played "Washington, DC" by the Magnetic Fields in the past week, I decided to take a weekend trip to Washington. After a quick facebook stalk, it seemed as if half of the college was in DC, interning with this senator, or that organization.
To be fair, the mayor of DC is an Oberlin alum, as is the mayor of Baltimore, so we've got a head start there for working in the city. But folks were all over. Nora was a policy intern at the AFL-CIO, answering questions like: "Why can't we save health care?"
John served as a sustainability intern at the National Zoo, bringing the "Energy Orbs" to a new environment, and tracking energy use at the zoo.
The cutest co-worker ever. Photo Credit: John Andreoni
Most Tasty (and best blogged)
"Stop-Motion Soup" — Ma'ayan Plaut
"Exploring Spanish Cuisine" — Amanda Nichols and Danny Rosenberg
"The Candy-maker" — Xaio Xaio Li
"Screen to Table" — Leann Dameron
"Lunch with Localvore" — Eloise Reid
Oberlin has a food culture. People here really love cooking, and, given a month, a lot focused on improving their skills. As Ma'ayan's neighbor, I was the joyful recipient of most of her delicious food-making.
However, I was most captivated by Xaio Xaio, who was researching candy in China, to get the inspiration to make more complex candies for adult palates. I love candy. Terribly. The way most folks feel about chocolate is the way I feel about gummy candies and dried fruits. I forwarded this blog to a number of my friends as an "Isn't this cooool?" bit. And for Valentine's Day, my... er... valentine made me some of the fruit candy mentioned in this post.
Photo Credit: Xaio Xaio Li
So thanks, WT Blogs, for making my February a little sweeter.
PS: There were many, many, many, many, more projects and blogs I didn't mention. I feel sorrow for all of these omissions, but will correct them in a giant all-Winter Term website soon. If you hear of any cool ones, please leave them as comments.