Winter Term at Oberlin

January at Oberlin means winter term.

What winter term means is up to you.

What is winter term?

It’s a month away from classes that’s designed to let you dive into a single project or group endeavor. The central objective of winter term is to continue the process of personal and academic discovery outside of the confines of a classroom.

During winter term, you can create your own project or join a team of students on an existing one. Maybe you'll study bats in Costa Rica, meet investment bankers on Wall Street, record your band’s new album, or learn Russian or Greek.

You’re required to complete three winter-term projects for graduation, but in typical Oberlin fashion, most students do something great during all four years.

What does winter term look like?

We've collected visual inspiration from past winter terms here to give you a broad sampling of ideas of what winter term projects can look like.

24 hours of winter term in Oberlin

Photo by Yevhen Gulenko

Photo by Yevhen Gulenko

Photo by Marissa Camino

Photo by Marissa Camino

Where can winter term take you?

Don't worry: It’s not a class. You don't have to remain on campus unless you want to. You can travel with a professor to conduct research, work with a local nonprofit agency, shadow a professional in a field of interest to you, or learn a new skill such as using a loom, letterpress, winemaking, or songwriting. You are as limited as your imagination and resources.

Click or tap any of the circles below to learn more about projects from around the world.

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Location: Oberlin, Ohio

Student: Tom Cline '18

I was responsible for making sure all of the lights were hung, focused, and working for the show, according to the light plot, as well as setting up any special practical units (like the chandelier) that were in the show.

Volunteering in Vietnam

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

Student: Gabriel Hitchcock '17

I spent four weeks in Hanoi volunteering at a traditional medicine hospital, where I helped to prepare and administer medication, all while getting to explore what is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.

Concert Halls and Castles

Location: Aberdeen, Scotland

Students: Christiana Rose '16, Daniel Karcher '17

We spent our winter term presenting our sound art and compositions and attending lectures at the University of Aberdeen's sonic arts program. We also got to spend a week taking in the historic castles and modern concert halls of Scotland.

Taiko Members Hone Their Craft

Location: San Jose, California

Students: Matthew Blankinship '17, Miles Ginoza '17, Holly Hoang '17

We were able to take private lessons with members of San Jose Taiko, to not only improve our own taiko playing abilities and bring that knowledge back to our student group, Oberlin College Taiko.

Growing Organics Down Under

Location: Akatarawa Valley, New Zealand

Student: Kendra Lockard '19

I volunteered on a World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farm (WWOOF) in New Zealand, where did all kinds of work, including picked blueberries and blackberries, and sanding down tables and benches.

SANCA Circus School

Location: Seattle, Washington

Student: Teague Harvey '19

At the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts in Seattle, a bunch of Oberlin alumni have been running a Winter Term Circus Intensive for Oberlin students, though it has expanded to be open to everyone else in the world. In addition to the daily conditioning and stretching, I learned all kinds of skills, from Tumbling to Aerials to even the Flying Trapeze.

Solidarity with El Salvador

Location: Santa Marta, El Salvador

Student: Esther Espeland '17

I and nine other Oberlin students from the organization Oberlin in Solidarity with El Salvador (OSES) traveled to the community of Santa Marta, where we lived with host families while we worked at, and with, various organizations in the community, met and learned from its people, and heard testimonies about the brutal 12-year civil war.

Aye, Sea Turtles

Location: Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica

Student: Marie Lilly '17

I spent my winter term volunteering with the Institue for Field Research Experience in Costa Rica, where I worked as part of team that studied sea turtles' in-water behavior. I liked it so much that I'm goinng to go back again next year!

Straight to the Source

Location: Ghana

Student: Richard Tran '16

I traveled throughout Ghana to study traditional and contemporary art forms with local artists, including papermaking, batik, weaving, glass-bead making, and pottery, a favorite of mine, in part because of how it was utilized by every civilization at one point or another.

Policy, People, and Organizing

Location: Portland, Oregon

Student: Kiley Peterson '17

I interned at OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, which dedicates itself to grassroots organizing and leadership development of local, historically marginalized communities. I focused on interviewing OPAL’s volunteers, board members, and other environmental justice activists in the area, along with producing social media content, blogs, and some photography.

Story Pirates

Location: NYC, New York

Student: Ma'ayan Plaut '10

On a whim, I applied to the Striking Viking Story Pirates, whose aim is to show kids the power of their creativity and words with writing workshops and theater shows based on the kids' writing. In addition to the videography and editing internship, I did a photodocumentary of the organization and its productions.

We Don’t Believe in Winter

Location: Gainesville, Florida

Student: Chinwe Okona '13

I was at the McKnight Brain Institute in the University of Florida neuropsychology department, diong clinical research for their "Vital Study", which aims to determine how cognitive training and physical exercise interact to improve the mental function of healthy elders.

Lessons in Hokkien

Location: Penang, Malaysia

Student: Zoë McLaughlin '11

I spent my winter term learning Hokkien, the dialect of Chinese spoken in Malaysia, which is where my mum is from, as well as where several of my relatives still live, including my grandparents.

Obies Using Languages

Location: Monteverde, Costa Rica

Student: Julia Pearlstein-Levy '15

The first part of my Winter Term was spent backpacking with some Costa Rican students and working on improving my Spanish fluency. Eventually I ended up in Monteverde, where I stayed with local artist Ana Ovares and helped her oper her new business, “La Macorbíotíca”, which centers around natural holistic foods, and healing through massage.

Oral Health

Location: Namibia

Student: Richard McGuire '14

I found myself in northern Namibia, where I worked with primary school children and conducted fieldwork on the state of dental health in the region. My goal is to develop a nonprofit initiative that will present creative educational media on the importance of maintaining oral health, which is one of the most neglected areas of global health.

Yoga Pilgrimmage

Location: Mysore, India

Student: Alexander Bianchi '13

As part of my project "Becoming a Breath: a Critical Field Study of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Practice", I spent a month in India practicing and observing at Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, which is considered the origin-place of Ashtanga yoga, a breath-focused, flowing, physically demanding form of yoga that I have been studing for two and a half years.


Location: Fujian, China

Student: Kendra Lian '16

I had the opportunity to shadow two doctors at the Fujian Medical University Hospital, where I got to experience several surgeries, such as a brain surgery and an ACL surgery, which was surreal as it was something I had undergone only a few months earlier. Just being able to stand so close and admire over 40 years' worth of thoughts, information, actions, and reactions was an amazing feeling.

Winter term: our stories

Our campus news team writes about a number of interesting and innovative winter-term projects students complete each year. Read some of the stand-out projects below; read more stories on our website.

Photo of third-year Jasper Clarksburg and fourth-year Julienne Pasichow in the White House

Economic Theory in Practice

Two spend winter term in the White House as interns with the Council of Economic Advisers.

Read more.

Photo of students on a tour of the Globe Theatre

London Calling

During winter term, 12 students traveled to England’s capital to experience the history and variety of the city’s theater scene.

Read more.

Photo of Conservatory students at the lost city of Petra in Jordan

Classical and Jazz in the Middle-Eastern Crossroads

Eight conservatory students spent winter term teaching and performing for students throughout Jordan.

Read more.

Photo of Dance Diaspora members in a village in Gambia

Learning Through Example in West Africa

Dance Diaspora members find inspiration, learn painful slave history in winter term trip to Gambia.

Read more.

Poster advertising winter term intensive Russian opportunity

Rapidfire Language Learning

Students who choose an intensive language course over winter term learn an entire semester’s material in one month.

Read more.

Photo of student performing with a piano at an open mic night

Learning the Secrets of Songwriting

This winter term, a small group of students participated in a songwriting workshop led by noted singer-songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche ’03.

Read more.

Photo of students in Egypt

Rebellion on the Nile

A dozen students led by Associate Professor Zeinab Abul-Magd spent winter term exploring the political and environmental issues facing Egypt.

Read more.

Photo of student olunteering at a traditional medicine hospital in Vietnam

Volunteering in Vietnam

Third-year Gabriel Hitchcock, a neuroscience major and art history minor, spent his winter term in Hanoi, Vietnam, volunteering at a traditional medicine hospital.

Read more.

Photo of students filming winemaker in France

Filming Wine in France

Thomas Chevrier, French lecturer and faculty in residence at French House, led a group of students to wine country during winter term to document the iconic French art of winemaking.

Read more.

Photo of students with drum

Taiko Members Hone Their Craft

Members of Oberlin College Taiko spend winter term learning essential skills and knowledge from members of the San Jose Taiko ensemble.

Read more.

Photo of students volunteering on an organic blueberry and blackberry farm

Growing Organics Down Under

Kendra Lockard spent her winter term in New Zealand volunteering with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms on a blueberry and blackberry farm.

Read more.

Winter term: your stories

Oberlin student bloggers have lots to say about their experiences at Oberlin and beyond. Winter term gives them a chance to provide first-hand accounts of what winter term is really like and how students can make the most of this special period.

Read some of our favorite posts below; read more stories from our student bloggers.

Photo of group hiking in the mountains

Winter Term in El Salvador

myself and nine other Oberlin students from the organization Oberlin in Solidarity with El Salvador (OSES) traveled to the community of Santa Marta - a small town located in the mountains of northern Cabanas with whom Oberlin has had an eight-year relationship.

Read more.

Photo of hand-made artist paper book

Smock, Paper, Scissors

I was accepted into Aimee's eight-person class to learn Asian and Western styles of papermaking and bookbinding

Read more.

Excerpt of comics page focused on shapes

The Shape(s) of My Winter Term

Illustration of Jack Kerouac

Most winter terms in a blog

But I always have the nagging feeling that I should be doing more with my winter term.

Read more.

Photo of chandelier resting on a stage

My (Belated) Winter Term Post

I spent my Winter Term bundled up in Oberlin, working as the Master Electrician for the Theater Department Main Stage production of Family Happiness.

Read more.

Photo of student at Penn State for piano competition

Winter term on campus

Although I wasn't participating in an internship or doing a project somewhere else in the world, my winter term project was just what I needed as a music performance major.

Read more.

Photo of students practicing aerial silks techniques

Winter term, 1st Edition: SANCA Circus School, Seattle

So what do you actually learn at a Circus School?

Read more.

Photo of student laying on artist's tree stump installation

California Dreaming

Since I won't be sharing my poetry with this blog, I want to tell you instead about the physical journey I've been during this month.

Read more.

Photo of group sledding on Capitol Hill

Fun in the 202

You're able to explore an area of study and experience a discipline that you may not otherwise have the opportunity to during the semester.

Read more.

More from the blogs:

X-Men: The Unexpected Virtue of Influence

For my first Winter Term project, I have been writing a feature-length screenplay, which is something I've never actually done before.

Read more.

I am a turtle and other winter term lessons

I learned two important things during winter term: 1) I do not have X-ray vision. 2) I am not a chemist.

Read more.

A Blog Post about Toenails

It was only when Ben was holding me by the armpits with my feet dangling a few inches above my sneakers that I realized that being independent is highly overrated.

Read more.

The Essence of Time

Winter Term has always functioned for me as a time to re-align myself with things that I am passionate about such as literature and writing, digital media, advocacy and education.

Read more.

Winter in California: Burritos and Ending Social Isolation

During the week, I am an intern at Beyond Differences, an incredible non-profit organization with the goal of ending social isolation.

Read more.

Being Productive During Winter Term, Part 2

Because this was a self-motivated project I had to schedule my own time to work on this independently, which was a challenge considering I had a few other things to get done.

Read more.

Fears and Frustrations Turn Into Winter Term Dreams

My winter term project led me to a goal that I want to pursue later in life, and I'm excited about that.

Read more.

Winter term recap

But one of my favorite parts about coming back to campus after winter term is that you have a preset conversation starter for the next week and a half.

Read more.

Six winter term feelings

My project involved writing a short story cycle, a collection of short stories that are separate but related or meant to be read together.

Read more.

Oh the weather outside is... actually quite nice

Fact: 5am is way too early to work as a functioning human being.

Read more.

Winter Term, Part I

I've known Obies who have traveled to places like Israel and Rwanda, studied poetry or read the complete works of a specific author, had an internship relevant to their career interests, and watched the entirety of Breaking Bad.

Read more.

Winter Term, Research Term

Now that I've had that time off, I'm ready to start work on my on-campus winter term project.

Read more.


Inspired yet by what you see here? It’s never too early to plan your winter-term project. Begin with the Office of Winter Term. Plan your winter-term project.