This past month, 283 students who had registered for classes first semester decided to take interim off. (The number does not include students enrolled in one of the St. Olaf-sponsored study abroad programs, some of which last for five months.)
From a purely statistical standpoint, one might expect more students to utilize the interim-off option, although the reasons the majority of the student body chooses to take four interim classes are numerous and well-reasoned.
Firstly, interim offers students pursuing double (or triple) majors the opportunity to snap up much-needed credits. As Leah Klister '08 pointed out, I don't think I would be able to finish my majors if I didn't take interim classes all four years.
But for most, finishing two majors is secondary to making sure there are no pesky general education requirements leftover at the end of senior year, and students often use interim to knock off compulsory academic obligations.
I used interim to take Biology of Women and get one of my science GEs out of the way, said Stephen Gunvalson '07.
The list goes on, too. Interim can be a great way to experiment with classes outside of a major, take on an independent study, study abroad or focus on only one class in a difficult subject area.
But what about those 283 students who decided that another January with St. Olaf wasn't worth their time? Did they travel? Work? Read books? Volunteer? Spend days sleeping and nights cooped up on a couch watching re-runs of I Love New York, scarfing down pints of Double Super Fudge Chunk?
Attractive as the Double Super Fudge Chunk option sounds, it seems most Oles that take interim off try to do something productive or exciting. An overarching motivation is generally to escape the renowned St. Olaf bubble for a month, and, in the process, evade traditional academics for a little while.
For students really lusting after a lack of structure, backpacking Europe remains a popular, if increasingly expensive, option.
Sophomore Annie Carpenter spent first semester in Florence, Italy, and she determined early on that she needed more time traveling in the Old World. After a short stint with her family over Christmas, she went back to Europe, stopping in Milan, Venice, Budapest, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Marseilles and Barcelona, among other cities.
I figured I had one month to do whatever I wanted, so why not spend it traveling around Europe? Carpenter said.
Other students eschew travel for a more stable, realistic European experience. Senior Nathan Hopkins moved to Paris for the month of January, organizing the journey himself, even though St. Olaf offers an interim in Paris every January.
Although there are benefits to an official Olaf program, I decided to go it alone, Hopkins said. It was the right decision for me. I rented a small studio apartment for the month. I was able to come and go as I pleased, I didn't have to go on any outings that didn't interest me, I didn't have class or homework or a professor, wasn't always in the company of other Americans and I had to deal with the responsibility of organizing and executing everything by myself.
Other students use interim to participate in adventurous volunteer programs. Sophomore Morgan Sours, ahead on credits after taking Organic Chemistry over the summer, decided she wanted to get away from the cold and get a new perspective over interim. She volunteered with the Minneapolis-based World Endeavors and traveled to the Philippines, staying with a host family and working at a volunteer clinic and an orphanage. She provided much needed medical assistance and, in some instances, even got to help deliver babies.
I was a little overwhelmed with school and just needed to do something different, Sours said. I had nothing to worry about with credits, and I didn't really want to stick around Northfield. I wanted something outside of St. Olaf.
But for some Oles, staying at St. Olaf and not taking a class is a perfectly satisfactory way to spend a month on campus.
Senior Stephanie Pool, planning on backpacking Europe, pulled out of an interim trip to Ireland. When her friends were unable to make the trek to Europe, she found herself stuck in Northfield and she enjoyed it thoroughly.
I read a lot of books for fun, watched a lot of Netflix movies, and spent quality time just hanging out and talking with people, which I feel like I don't have as much time for during the school year, Pool said. Sometimes you just need some down time.