Having spent the fall semester abroad, I greatly anticipated this year’s winter study period as an opportunity to become slowly re-acclimated to academia in the United States and to spend some time catching up with friends. I became even more eager to come back for winter study during those boring couple of days after New Year’s. But now the novelty of being back has worn off and I am to wonder how well my time is being spent. Sure, I’ve filled my Winter Study days in a manner familiar to many Williams kids: get up (perhaps before 10:30 a.m.), go to class, watch some television, read, e-mail, then go out. I cannot say that if I were at home I would be any more productive, but there is a very good chance that I would not be home at all if Winter Study did not exist. I could be using my time to travel. Essentially, I argue that the purpose of Winter Study and the social benefit it has for Williams students is positive, but the effect it has on the academic calendar is negative.
I know I am not the only Williams student who feels that the amount of time one gets to spend with his or her good friends does not do justice to the friendship. Most students at this school are extremely busy and I know more than a handful of students who hardly go out at all because of a lack of time to do anything but study or go to practice. For these people and for others who find the fall and spring semesters to be full of pressure, winter study is a time when they can enjoy their friendships and an interesting class without feeling overwhelmed. In a sense, having Winter Study in addition to regular semesters gives some students two views of what life at Williams is like: one seen through a library window and one from a chair lift at Brodie Mountain. Even though I don’t allow Williams to stress me out to any enormous extent, I do value the difference between time spent with friends in the middle of a semester and time spent with friends during Winter Study. In addition, many students enjoy the opportunity to study away for the month. This is especially true for those students who are unable to study abroad for whatever reason.
It does seem however, that Winter Study creates certain scheduling difficulties during the year. Having Winter Study results in a short Christmas break and a long second semester. Making plans for any kind of work or travel over Christmas break becomes very difficult. In addition, many summer jobs require students to begin work before the end of May, a time when most of us are exhausted from finals.
Last year, I went straight to work the day after finals, and could have used a week or so to get settled at home for the summer before beginning my job. Also, many students from other schools have the opportunity to travel in May before summer jobs begin, a luxury which many Williams students might like to have. Perhaps Williams could make only two Winter Study periods mandatory, giving students the option to remain on campus or do something else with their time. Some colleges even have their two mandatory Winter Study periods at the end of the second semester, which could be another option to explore. Essentially, Winter Study helps foster a positive social atmosphere at Williams, but places restrictions on some students’ plans for the year.