Esprit de CORE

Proctor Dining Hall, at 10 o’clock on a Thursday morning, is a comfy, laid-back place, with students lingering over late breakfasts and cups of tea; winter’s grip is relaxed as sunlight dapples the snow-covered pine trees outside. Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” plays in the kitchen. Ben Silton ’11, however, is looking a tad uncomfortable in his cafeteria chair. It’s week three—with the theme of MiddCORE applied to social organizations—and he’s cold-calling businesses all over town, trying to arrange meetings to discuss adopting Rainforest Alliance certified products.

“Today’s the last day of this project.” he says. “We only had two days to do it.”

“All right, well, thanks, anyway,” says Silton as he taps “end” on his cell phone. In a few minutes, he’ll wander down to another eatery, only to get shut down in person.

“I’ve been trying to take MiddCORE since freshman year,” he says. “And I figured I’m going to have an easy spring, so I wanted to really challenge myself, gain more professional skills before I enter the job world.” Still, Silton’s non-MiddCORE friends think he’s crazy for squandering his last J-term on stuff like this, and he admits he’s barely seen his suitemates all month.

“Looking out the window and seeing the lovely snow and the sun is a bit hard,” says Catherine Collins. “I just want to ski!”

Surely, participating in MiddCORE has its costs, and not just other winter term opportunities lost. Not everything will live up to expectation. One student says he took MiddCORE this year as an alternative to an internship and was disappointed not to practice more accounting and financial planning. Another admits that she was hyper-competitive at first and thought she hated everyone in the class during the first week. Collins, who says she consciously gave up her last month with her friends for MiddCORE, winces at being called “scatterbrained” and “motherly” during one challenge; others complain of the flu.

“Flu or no flu, by week three, you’re drained,” explains Alyssa Limperis ’12. “It’s really tough.”

But in four years of MiddCORE, only one student has dropped out, says Claudon, and that slot was filled in an hour. There’s now a waiting list to get into the class (which has online registration, like other winter term courses), and Holmes and Claudon are hoping to franchise the MiddCORE concept so that simultaneous programs can run.

“The word has gotten out,” says Holmes. “Will all 2,000 Middlebury students take MiddCORE? No, I don’t think we want that. But people are realizing what’s to be gained.”

One plus from all those hours together, say MiddCORE students, is a bond that lasts long after January 31. Whether it’s the vulnerability of learning to speak publicly, preparing presentations in the wee hours, hawking merchandise to strangers, or just suffering through the sniffles together, the intensity can break down barriers.

“The learning experience from peers is incredible,” says Meredith Gu ’13, adding that taking MiddCORE this year has made her appreciate trading city attitudes in China for small-town Middlebury, where she was able to interact with the community and, on campus, make friends for life. Besides, she says, echoing other students’ sentiments, MiddCORE is fun. “This is the first time I’ve learned how to work hard and have fun,” says Gu, a philosophy major who dismisses the course’s business stereotype. “We all came into MiddCORE being different people and having different interests, but all of us are learning these common skills that can be applicable to anything.”

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