Winter Study at Williams College

Williams College Winter Study

By Explore Editor

By Lisa Li
Unigo Campus Rep at Williams College

In the midst of tests, essays, and readings, spring and fall semesters definitely drag along for students who have already begun to eagerly await the promise of break. Luckily, at Williams, there is a Winter Study term during the month of January for students who just can’t stay entertained in one class for more than a few weeks. During Winter Study, students and faculty engage in interactive courses that use more inventive and detailed methods of learning otherwise familiar subjects. Students reach out of their comfort zones to navigate and discover new realms of knowledge: the ultimate ambition of a liberal arts college. At a time when the glacial climate of northwest Massachusetts is anything but an attraction at Williams, many students still brave the cold and even enthusiastically spend three weeks at school for Winter Study.

The grounds for Winter Study’s popularity lie in the term’s emphasis on an innovative approach to education. During Winter Study courses, students aren’t sitting in classrooms taking notes or listening to monotonous lectures. Instead, they are out in the wilderness of the Berkshires training in first aid or in a dance studio learning about the connection between math and grace. The purpose of Winter Study is not to stifle student expression and knowledge, but to encourage everyone to explore new avenues of learning. For many, it’s the first time they have picked up glassblowing, learned to knit, or analyzed the schematics of Bollywood films. By taking innovative steps to promote learning, the college aims to ensure that students investigate all aspects of their studies, including math, critical thinking, practical skills, and the arts.

“I took [Literary Collaboration], which was taught by two grads who had worked for a few years and then decided to just live off their parents’ income by moving into a barn and making books,” Noah Fields said. “It was definitely a really nice change from Bio 101 because it wasn’t the same kind of academic work. I mean, our textbook was a comic book. It was still kind of time-consuming, but I definitely think that it was worthwhile and fulfilling.”

It is precisely this sort of innovation that makes the Winter Study term so popular among students. “I took a class about surfing in literature and film, which is definitely not your stereotypical course,” Caroline O’Connell said. “The stuff we learned were still very pertinent and helpful, but it was just much more interesting because the topic was so different and didn’t seem to have the same stuffy feel to it.”

Winter Study is about experimentation. Not only are the courses’ subjects deviations from the norm, but the locations and classrooms are often far from the safety of the Purple Bubble. To many people, studying abroad is generally viewed as an eye-opening and enlightening experience. However, it’s also not for everyone. The glory of Winter Study is that the term offers a diverse selection of courses in exotic places (ranging from Senegal to Chile) and allows hesitant students to test the waters of studying abroad before making a semester-long commitment.

“My JA [Junior Advisor] told me he had gone abroad for Winter Study and actually realized that he didn’t like spending time away from campus,” Rebecca Gordon said. “I thought I would try it too to see how I would feel being away from my friends and family. I ended up going to Georgia [in Eastern Europe] and I loved it. I felt so independent being by myself and it was great to be so fully immersed in the culture.”

Winter Study is certainly an academic term, but its lax restrictions on students’ time allow the three weeks of its length to be a time for social interaction as well. Most classes meet fewer than 10 hours each week, freeing time for students to try out skiing on Jimney Peak or meet new acquaintances — not exactly the typical stressful time on campus. Parties seem to perpetually, and mostly spontaneously, spring up throughout campus, so it’s a great time for students to become fully integrated into the social scene.

“I think my time at Williams is much better during Winter Study,” Julia Drake said. “Usually, during the school year, you have so much work to do that whenever you hang out, you feel really pressed for time. It’s a lot more conducive to having a social time because there isn’t the same pressure to constantly be working.”

At first, the idea of leaving home early after a two-week winter break to return to school for class hardly seems like an enticing idea. However, students at Williams have been able to see past the preliminary annoyance of school to embrace the benefits of a short, creative, and, well, fun term before the onset of spring semester. If the inventive classes and the entertaining social atmosphere isn’t enough, at least students know that if they really dislike a class, they only have three weeks to suffer through it.