In Support of a J-Term

Cambria Litsey

When I was looking at colleges, one of the most important things to me was study-abroad programs. I know it seems a little weird. Why base your college decision on the time you’re planning to spend away from campus? Well, travel has always been an incredibly important aspect of my life and I was eager to learn not only at a campus in the United States, but also in real-world settings across the globe.

Colgate actually does pretty well in this arena compared to a lot of other schools. I also looked seriously at Colby College, but it only offered three school-led programs, all designed for foreign language majors. With numerous Extended Study trips offered each semester, in addition to approximately 23 Colgate-led programs and over 100 additional approved programs, Colgate does a pretty good job of making studying off-campus a realistic option.

I had always planned on studying abroad for an entire year, and while I know several students who have managed to do so, it was simply unrealistic for me. So, I took the initiative to study abroad in Florence for six weeks the summer after my first year, in

addition to the semester I spent in Stockholm during my junior year.

Yet, despite these opportunities, I am left wishing I had had more options to travel. Even more than that, considering I only have four courses left to take at Colgate, I am beginning to realize how much I still want to learn. While it sounds ridiculous, 32 classes haven’t been enough for me. There are so many subject areas I haven’t had a chance to explore, whether it be for fear of ruining my GPA or simply for the lack of time. What, then, is the one solution that could solve both of the disappointments I have had in my college career? A January term.

Whether you know it as J-term, Jan Plan, interim or some other name, a short one-month “semester” is pretty common across liberal arts campuses. Colgate, in fact, had a J-term from the 1960s to the 1980s. I think there are many benefits to reinstating such a program as part of our curriculum. First off, I often find myself bored after five full weeks at home (although I’m sure other students might fight me on that one). In addition, I think a shortened class time would be an incentive to make me sit through that economics class I know I really should take but just can’t bring myself to take for an entire semester, or to brush up on my French grammar, which I haven’t practiced since high school. In addition to offering practical classes, the J-term is also an opportunity to take something completely out of the ordinary and something that is, well, probably entirely useless. My good friend from high school has spent her J-terms taking a class in French and a class on German fairytales, as well as studying abroad in Italy.

Not only does a four-week course calendar allow students to take unique classes, but it also provides a perfect time frame for study abroad programs and internships. While I know we already have extended studies that sometimes occur during this break, it could be an opportunity for students to take an entirely new class for those four weeks. It would not only provide study abroad opportunities for those who don’t want to or can’t miss a whole semester, but also more opportunities to travel for students like me.

I recently went to a lecture in which alumni reflected upon the influence a retiring professor had in their lives. Nearly every single one of them reminisced about the Januarys they had spent studying with him in Sri Lanka. In many ways, I think professors could benefit from this type of calendar adjustment just as much as students. Getting to travel with students is in many ways a more valuable and fun experience than seeing them in the classroom every day. Not only is it possible to travel to locations that are less accessible to the average tourist, but students also get to connect with new cultures in much more intimate ways, which in turn can provide learning opportunities for

professors themselves.

With all the readjustments being made to our academic calendar, I only think it appropriate to consider the potential benefits of reinstating a J-term. I know I certainly would have taken advantage of it.

Contact Cambria Litsey at [email protected].