Back from Asia

We have now completed our four-city trip, and it was both a great success and a reaffirmation of the College’s strategy to engage Asia more purposefully.   If one believes that “one needs to see to believe,” then a trip to Asia will underscore that this might indeed be Asia’s century, and that any American institution that chooses to ignore this in planning its future is putting itself at great risk.

Our trip had three major goals: (1) to meet and thank our alumni, past and current parents, current students studying in Asia, and friends of the College for all they do on the College’s behalf; (2) to seek increased support for the College, both financially and in helping to create greater opportunities for our students and (mentoring, internships, and jobs); and (3) to strengthen the College’s network by integrating alumni of the undergraduate college with Language School, Schools Abroad, and Monterey alumni.  A few words about these goals and how we advanced them on our trip.

We held receptions in Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and had between 60-80 guests at each one, by far the largest gatherings in Asia the College has ever hosted.  The critical mass in each of the four cities demonstrates the growing global character of our programs and the success of our graduates.  It was so rewarding to see the size of the crowds, and the enthusiasm for the College—what it is doing both in Vermont and around the world—was palpable in all cities and in the many individual meetings we had during the trip.

Our current students who are studying at our programs in Tokyo and Beijing are thriving and had much to say about their experiences abroad.   A panel in Beijing, which was part of our reception, featured two alumni from the College (’98 and ’08) who are working in Beijing—one of them a native of Shanghai and the other from Brooklyn, along with two alumni from the School of Chinese (1966 and 1977).  The four shared their experiences in China and how Middlebury influenced their careers and lives.  It was a remarkable display of talent, perseverance, and, in the case of the Language School alumni, history: one of the alums was among the first nine students to be invited into China in the early 1970s as part of Zhou Enlai’s ping pong diplomacy, which eventually led to Deng Xiaoping’s initiating China’s reforms in 1978, and the other was among the first Americans to be allowed to remain in China and work among Chinese (in a factory in northern China) in 1978.

The panelists represented multiple generations and a wide range of expertise; all have remarkable knowledge of China and connections within Chinese society and all are eager to assist recent graduates and current students interested in the region.  The evening allowed the large number of attendees, all with Middlebury connections (the College, Language Schools, Schools Abroad, and Monterey), to come together, network among themselves, and help us create a tighter and stronger alumni group, which, in turn, will provide greater support and opportunities for current students and graduates.

Perhaps the most moving part of the reception was how one set of former parents traveled by overnight train to attend the reception in Beijing simply to thank us in person for all the College did for their daughter, who graduated in 2008.  They could not speak a word of English, but they expressed their deep gratitude for their daughter’s education via a translator, and then far more in their non-verbal expressions of appreciation to the College.

We succeeded in obtaining commitments for internships for our students in each of the four cities.  We sought internships for students who might stay on for a Winter Term following a fall semester of study, for those who might stay for the summer following their spring semester abroad, and also for students who could manage an internship during their semester of study.  We will be following up with a number of parents, alumni, and friends of the College to establish these internships, which are becoming more and more helpful for those who are seeking longer term opportunities in Asia.  We also received immediate and unexpected financial support, as attendees made gifts and commitments to the College on the spot, which is unusual but, needless to say, very welcome.

Our final goal was to continue the process of leveraging all of our resources related to our rich array of international related programs.  In particular, by inviting alums of the College, of Monterey, of the Language Schools, and the Schools Abroad we are consciously attempting to more than double, and nearly triple, the number of individuals who could (and should) serve as resources for our students and other alumni.   If we are successful in bringing together alumni from all these programs we will increase our alumni body from slightly fewer than 30,000 graduates of the undergraduate college to about 80,000, which includes attendees and graduates of the Language Schools, attendees of our Schools Abroad, and graduates of Monterey.  Those 80,000, as our receptions showed, live throughout the world, and should be a great support system for students and alumni who are increasingly seeking work and lives not only in Asia, but in literally every corner of the world.  No liberal arts college can boast as large, distinguished, and global alumni network as ours, and with as many potential benefits to our students.  Judging from the rich discussions at each reception among attendees from each of our programs, we made very good progress in establishing a more unified alumni network for the College.

2 comments

Abhishek Raman Parajuli

Abhishek Raman Parajuli’s avatar

I am really excited to know the college is expanding its efforts in India; as a Nepali/Indian who went to school in Hong Kong I too have every reason to believe that the dawn of an Asian century is upon us. I am however a little wary of your optimism about the returns from integrating the alumni base of the other programs with that of the undergraduate college.

Having worked in College Advancement, I find a big difference in the commitment the alumni of the college have versus those of the other programs and for obvious reasons: a summer at Mills is hardly likely to garner as much connection with the college as 4 years as an undergraduate. The alumni from the other programs also have other colleges and universities that they are more committed to than Middlebury. So while numerically expanding the alumni base from 30,000 to 80,000 makes us feel well connected, this feeling may be insignificant when it comes to returns.

As a freshman at Middlebury I hope there are flaws in my analysis above and the wider alumni base does translate into more opportunities for the college, but I for one would not bank on it.

A trip to Asia is definitely a worthwhile experience for a lifetime. It is really great that the college is expanding and looking for new opportunities. A well established and properly working network is something rather important for the students.
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