Monthly Archives: November 2010

More than Breakfast

One of the things that I have been most blessed with during my time at Middlebury has been good conversation.  The pace of work and life here is surprisingly fast in such a quiet surrounding, but what continues to refresh me are my conversations here.

The most genuine conversation I’ve had lately came from the most unexpected source.  I walked into Ross dining hall, book in hand to read for a quiz in Education in America.  After doing a full circle around to see what was up for grabs for breakfast decided to start with coffee before anything else.  Let me point out that I am a firm believer that breakfast can and often needs to be a working meal.  It’s my time to wake up and to finish up whatever last bit of reading I just almost finished last night.   Depending on how much sleep I can sometimes go from standard politeness to even friendly, something my mother would tell you has taken me long to learn.  I suppose I was being particularly friendly Thursday morning as I said hello to a classmate because he decided to join me at my table.  Ignoring the reading material that I had brought with me, he sat with a full plate of French toast sticks and we began to talk about the Sociology of Tourism senior seminar that we are taking together.

We talked about the professor, the class dynamic and even a touch of the reading material – all standard small talk.  I continued to sip from my coffee cup, prepared with an out whenever the cup came to an end, but somehow by the time I hit the bottom of it we were talking about our paths into our chosen majors, what both rich and poor colleges have to offer students, our frustrations and our hopes for the future.  We talked about ways in which we’ve shaped our own educations and moments where maybe we should have done that more.  It almost doesn’t matter what we talked about, but the quality of our conversation convinced me to sit down with food as well and stay to continue it rather than just politely ducking out.

I’ve never been a morning person, but given that this was not my only great breakfast conversation of the week Middlebury just might inspire me to wake up with the sun.  Where else would I have the chance to sit with a fifth-generation Vermonter and talk about the distinct advantages of rich and poor colleges or talk to a Hong-Kong born Australian about the identity and future of ethnic enclaves?

Middlebury’s International-Ness

One characteristic that distinguishes Middlebury College from other small liberal arts colleges is, I believe, its “international-ness”. Middlebury is a great fit for students interested in foreign affairs and international “work” in general. Not only does the college admit 10 to 13 percent international students in every class, but its decidedly global perspective is reflected in its academic departments and programs.

The Monterey Institute for International Studies is a leading provider of international graduate education. As of July of 2010, officially became affiliated with Middlebury College. This affiliation means that Middlebury students can spend their fifth year getting a graduate degree in translation, interpretation, language education, international policy studies, international business, or international environmental studies at Monterey. Monterey is also known for its James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

International Studies (IS)
and International Politics and Economics (IP&E) are two of the most popular majors at Middlebury. The interdisciplinary approach of these two areas allows students a profound understanding of their chosen regions. There are three main requirements for an IS major. Students first pick a regional focus: Africa, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, Russia and East Europe, or South Asia. Students also study a language spoken in the region, and may be placed according to their existing knowledge of that language. The third choice is a disciplinary focus: politics, religion, history, geography, or anthropology. IP&E’s structure is the same except that disciplinary focus is always regional politics and economics. Both of these majors require students to spend at least one semester in their chosen region of the world.

Study abroad is a major component of the Middlebury experience for all students. More than two-thirds choose to study abroad during their junior year whatever their major. Middlebury has around 40 schools in universities abroad, and is affiliated with more than 75 English-speaking universities abroad for English-speaking studies. This commitment to facilitating student study abroad is perhaps the strongest reflection of Middlebury’s global focus.

Middlebury has prestigious and rigorous summer programs for language studies, offering intense instruction in ten languages. It also offers masters programs in language and doctorates in modern languages. Language immersion is taken very seriously during summer school, as is learning about cultures. Professors bring their families with them, and family members become important players in exposing students to other cultures.

Another element of Middlebury’s commitment to language is its ten on-campus language houses. Teacher assistants (TA), usually native speakers, live with students who observe language ‘pledges.’ Beginning level non-resident students visit to watch foreign movies and cartoons and enjoy cultural food. Language students have to sit at language tables, where an invisible line of “No English Spoken Here” is observed. Third or fourth-year students greet newcomers and explain menus before students order food in the language of instruction. Language professors and TAs also attend language tables and introduce students to new vocabulary, creating a fun environment.

Of the more than 150 active student-run organizations on campus, the International Student Organization (ISO) is one of the largest and most vibrant. ISO holds cultural dinners, parties, poetry reading, and other regular events, as well as a major annual cultural show also attended by townspeople. Students represent and share their culture with the community through singing, dance and theater performances. Sitting in an auditorium at a small liberal arts college in a small American town, you can watch the world perform in front of you. It’s an absolutely amazing experience! My pleasure mixed with regret as I attended my last ISO cultural show the Friday before Thanksgiving break.

Enjoy some clips from previous ISO shows at Middlebury:

I’m so thankful for Winter Workshops

Thanksgiving is around the corner! Every student got a special “present”–Winter Term Workshop Catalog!

Just a reminder, the academic calendar of Middlebury is “4-1-4”. Four months of fall semester (September-December), One month Winter Term (or J-term, in January) and four months of spring semester (February to May).

J-term is a fun time on campus. You may think “Really? Isn’t it always snowing in January? What can we do?” Oh well, Middlebury has all kinds of students who can make the snowing semester fun enough. Besides the non-traditional fun classes during J-term, there are also all kinds of student-led non-credit workshops.

This year there are over 100 winter workshops. Here are just a few examples: Acoustic Guitar, Art of Cosplay, Black and White Photography, Basket Weaving, Fencing, Hindi 101, Mahjong, Swing Dance, Ceramics, Wine tasting (21 or older)…

You may find a full list of this year’s winter workshops here:

Are the student instructors eligible to teach such a class? Can I actually learn something? The answer is “absolutely”. Middlebury students have talents that way beyond imagination. For example, the two instructors of “Fencing” workshop, Nicholas Tkach ’11 and Clark Hatheway ‘13, are fencing club’s captains and both fully certified Sith lords. The instructor of “Ballroom dancing”, Mark Turpin’11, comes from Germany and he’s an award-winning ballroom dancer. The instructor of “Beer Brewing” workshop (proof of age required), Carson Cornbrooks’11, has brewed beer for over a decade and is an expert on all kinds of beers. During “normal” academic time Mark is my German TA and Carson is one of my class project partners. Image that you go to class and hang out with an skilled dancer and a beer expert… How cool it is!

Have talent? Want to be a leader? Want to make some friends and earn some money? Just apply to be a winter workshop leader.

Want to try something but never had a chance? Want to learn from your peer? Want to hang out with friends and learn something? Just register for winter workshop. Simple enough!

That’s why Middlebury is trying hard to find the most diverse and interesting group of students every year for our campus. I am so thankful for being here!

The Solar Decathlon

This year I’ve been working on the Middlebury College Solar Decathlon Team.  The Solar Decathlon is a Department of Energy sponsored greenbuilding competition that challenges college students from around the world to design and build 100% solar-powered homes.  Last year, a team of students from the College submitted a proposal and was selected as one of the 20 finalists!

We’re competing against 19 teams from all over the country—California, Florida… and the world—China, Belgium, and more.  Middlebury is the only small-liberal arts college to ever compete on its own in this competition, and our home is named “Self-Reliance,” after the essay by Emerson.  I’ve been planning events for our team, including the Fall Family Weekend Open House, the Homecoming Weekend Open House, and am looking forward to some events in J-Term as well.  In a few weeks, our design sketches and architectural renderings will be on display in 51 Main, and in January and February we’ll be featured in Town Hall Theater for the “Home in Vermont” exhibit.

This project epitomizes the liberal arts to me.  There are over 70 students involved in the project, majoring in over 20 different departments.  We have physicists, chemists, writers, economists, architects, political scientists, athletes, musicians, and artists working on this project.  We have $500,000 to raise.  We have less than a year to build this house, and construction starts in April.  We’ll finish it over the summer, and then it’ll get trucked to Washington, D.C. and reassembled on the National Mall in just seven-days’ time.  We’ll compete in the ten competitions of the Decathlon, and then bring our home back to Middlebury, where it’ll be a permanent fixture on campus.  We don’t have a graduate level architecture or engineering program like many of the other competing teams do.  We’ve never taken on a challenge like this before.  But the interdisciplinary approach that we’re taking to this competition is our biggest strength, and I’m enjoying this project more than any other activity I’ve ever gotten to be a part of on campus.  Tomorrow we have an enormous portion of our design due to the DOE, and I am so proud of everyone who’s working hard to make this all come together. I couldn’t be prouder of the other students I’m working with—Middlebury kids really know how to rise to the occasion, and this is such a clear example of the talent, drive, and energy that makes Middlebury what it is.

For more information about the project, please visit our (student designed and managed) website!

I LoVermont

Coming from Scottsdale, Arizona the winter weather and the New England culture took some getting used to… but after I learned how to appropriately bundle up in the cold and once the snow melted into Spring, I fell in love with my new surroundings and this beautiful new state that I can call home.

Here are my Top 5 reasons why I LOVE VERMONT:

1. Fall Foliage

Fall has always been my favorite season… but in Arizona I never got to truly appreciate the change of seasons. As soon as late September/ early October rolls around I am obsessed with the magic of fall. The trees on campus and in the mountains are alive with bright yellows, reds, and oranges… it is impossible to look away!

2. Open Roads

Nestled comfortably between Route- 125 and Route-30, Middlebury is at an intersection of a world of open roads ready to be explored. Every road and every path that I have taken has lead me on a visually stunning tour of the beautiful Vermont landscape. From the rolling hills to the flat farm lands ever turn brings a new unseen beauty! While the roads may not be full of cars… I am never alone. It is not unusual to be riding along side a field of horses, cows, or sheep… or to even be driving next to a tractor cruising down the road.

3. Burlington/ Montréal/ Boston/ New York

While the 8,000 or so people in the town of Middlebury can seem small, Vermont is located at the heart of New England. It is so easy to travel anywhere on the East Coast from our location.

Burlington, Vermont’s largest “city”, is only 45 minutes north and is a great place to have dinner, shop on Church Street, or just watch the sunset over Lake Champlain.

Montréal is actually the largest major city to Middlebury and located only 2.5 hours north. If you want a little taste of Europe, Montréal is your destination. From cafés with crêpes to late night dance clubs, Montréal can be the perfect weekend or vacation destination!

Also, let us not forget that New York is only 5 hours away and Boston is 3.5 hours away (by car). Coming from Arizona all of these distances do not seem that far… when I think about how it takes 6 hours to get from Phoenix to Los Angeles … but with NOTHING in between! At least driving in Vermont is filled with open roads with small towns and stunning view of its natural landscapes!

4. Summer!

If you are student at Middlebury I would highly recommend spending a summer on campus… either working for an office on campus, doing research with a professor, or participating in a Summer Language Schools Program. Two years ago I spent the summer at Midd working for the Careers Service Office. During that time I really got to explore Vermont and know the town of Middlebury. I tried to blend in like a true Vermonter and searched for local “watering holes” and ate lots of Creamees (which a strictly Vermont term for soft serve ice-cream or frozen yogurt). My favorite place to relax and swim after work was at “Dog Team Road”, a small river beach just 5 minutes north of campus. I also made use of the wonderful summer agriculture! Every Saturday morning I went to the Middlebury Farmer’s Market at Marble Works. From delicious local goat cheeses to hand picked organic strawberries and blueberries I was constantly immersed in a culture of local foods!

5. Small Towns

While I still believe that Middlebury is the quintessial New England town driving through Vermont is like exploring a foreign country. Each small town has its own feeling and established way of life. From Vergennes to Bristol each town hosts its own Main Street with local restaurants and shops that are unique to that community. My favorite roadside town is Woodstock, VT which on Route- 4 south of Middlebury. The first time I passed through Woodstock they happened to be hosting their annual summer music festival. So naturally I stopped to get out and participate in the events! Not only does Woodstock have a beautiful Main Street with classic New England buildings and delicious cafés, but for this event they had closed the streets and hundreds of the members of the community were all dancing in the streets to the beats of the live music in the background! It is small towns like this that truly make me appreicate the sense of community and life-style that is unique to Vermont.


Middlebury’s size is often touted as one of the major draws of the college.  Being at a small institution gives students the chance to form deeper, lasting bonds with professors as they receive individualized attention and combined with Middlebury’s secluded location fosters meaningful friendships.  I know that all of this may sound abstract as I couldn’t fully understand the role that Middlebury’s scale would have in my experience here until I got here and lived it.  That said, I’m going to try to provide you with a couple of concrete examples of the role that Middlebury’s size has had on my college experience.

This semester, the Department of Sociology & Anthropology is hiring a new Professor of Sociology.  Of course the beginning of the hiring process is pretty standard with paper and electronic applications, but the truly exciting part of the process begins when finalists come to campus to get to know Middlebury and better help Middlebury get to know them.  As part of the hiring process all finalists deliver an afternoon talk on their research to all of the current faculty in the department and interested students.  It’s a chance for us to get a live feel of the professor in action and begin to imagine him or her at Middlebury.  Candidates meet with professors and students on campus to deepen that relationship as well.  As an upperclassman majoring in the department, I’ve had the pleasure of having lunch with each of the candidates and a small group of other students to get to know them outside of a formal setting.  While it’s a big responsibility to think that my opinion of these candidates will affect which one of them is hired and serve as student input on behalf of many more students than myself, I’m getting to help shape the future of the program.  Watching this process from the outside a couple of other times, though I have not always agreed with the decisions it yielded I have always appreciated their relative transparency, which is part of a larger culture of openness and access at Middlebury.  In a similar vein, President Ron Liebowitz will hold his monthly open office hours  this Friday.  These hours are an opportunity for any member of the college community – student, faculty, and staff – to talk to the president of the college without an appointment or formal invitation.

Hopefully this has helped you envision a life at a small college just a little more clearly.  If not, I guess you’ll just have to wait and see when you visit us, but  to sum it up small means contact; more contact with all of the human and physical resources that Middlebury has to offer whether it be chatting with friends until 3 in the morning or getting your hands dirty in the labs.

Family Tree

Back in the day when I was a little elementary school-er I remember having multiple assignments about “family”.  One in particular was creating my family tree.  For me, that usually included my immediate family and my extended family (i.e. grandparents, aunts, uncles, and many cousins).  Once, I got super into the assignment and traced my lineage back to ALL the European Royalty of the 11th century (lots of incest back then), boy did I think I was cool after that.  Since these assignments I haven’t thought much about my family lines. Of course, I still joke, as I always have, about my “brotha from anotha motha” which is one of my best friends from home, along with my “adopted sister” who has been my best friend for 16 years and counting.

But only recently, has my family really grown.  Now, what am I talking about? It all started with a picture taken at a retreat for Freshman earlier in the school year.  One of the retreat leaders and I posed for the photo along with two freshmen, both much taller and of different complexions than I.  Immediately after the picture was uploaded to Facebook, comments popped up.  “Look mami, papi, baby and baby,” one read; and so it began.

Quickly, the family grew adding sisters, parents, cousins, a family pet hamster named Pepito and even a “niece-n-law”, which included a very long conversation including diagrams and even charades explaining what that was to my suite-mate/sister.  My “daughter” even drew me a picture of our family tree which now hangs on a wall in our suite for all to see.  Our suite’s refrigerator even has my “kids'” assignments hanging to showcase their good grades.

Last weekend my friends came up to visit.  Both my worlds, the people that mean the most to me, combined.  My friends from my hometown were integrated into the Midd family tree.  My best friend became my children’s god mother and my other two friends became the “cool aunts.”  (Have I gone overboard yet?)

It has always been hard for me to be away from my friends back home, yet as I went from year to year here at Middlebury it is clear that not only are my friends here just as special, but they also are willing and wanting to add to “the family”.  You don’t find that everywhere.  I am so lucky to be here at Middlebury sharing my time with my family.  I look forward to our time together and seeing my family continue to grow.

The integrated MIIS masters degree, and thoughts on applications

The Middlebury-Monterey integrated degree program now allows students to get a B.A./B.S. from Middlebury and a masters degree from MIIS in just five years. (There’s a list of the program foci here.) Pretty exciting, huh? I think so!

The brief history. As of July 1, the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) became, quote, “the official graduate school of Middlebury College.” This doesn’t make Middlebury a big “research university” where attention to undergraduate students is replaced by graduate research and classes being taught by TA’s. That’s not the case at all.

Instead, Middlebury students now have the resources of a well-established and distinguished graduate schools increasingly available to them. For instance, here on our home Vermont campus, a lecture series featuring speakers from MIIS has been planned. On October 14, Pushpa Iyer, an Indian conflict-resolution-activist-turned-professor, gave her lecture in the first installment of the series entitled “Hate, Harmony and Homo sapiens: Zones of Peace (ZoP) amidst War,” and then was available in the Career Services Office to speak with students about futures in conflict resolution work.

What it means for me. As a Russian major and political science minor, the M.A. in International Policy Studies seems perfect for how I want to connect my undergraduate degree to my career goals. Though going “right back” to school after college was never a specific goal of mine, I find myself preparing and submitting an application to do so (and I couldn’t be more excited about it!).

I’m also reminded of what I was doing four years ago: the same thing with college apps. But, I feel like I have a pretty good amount of perspective on it now: four years after graduating high school, a few failed and successful internship applications later, and after a few more months working in the Admissions office, I bring you (drumroll…) “Three insights on applications.”

  1. “Where” you go may be important, but “what” you do is more so. By getting in, or not, to MIIS, I realize it’s totally up to me, and only me, to make my learning worthwhile once I get there if I really want a career in international policy later on.
  2. Preparing applications has a learning curve. It’s not just about how efficient I think I’ve become about editing a resume or filling in boxes on forms. In asking myself, “Why am I applying here? What do I want out of this school or job?” I’ve had to really sort out and define goals – which is super helpful in life.
  3. It’s not all in my hands only. Once I click the final “submit” or “send,” that’s about all I can really do. Admissions counselors and job application reviewers do their jobs for a living – they’re professionals, and they’re the ones who, if my application is the best it can be, are best able to figure out whether or not that opportunity is the best for me.

“Brooms Up!”

While men’s soccer is advancing in the Sweet 16 and the cross country teams are on their way to Iowa for nationals, Middlebury’s top team has already been crowned international champions. I’m talking, of course, about Quidditch.

For most muggles (that is, non-magical folk), Quidditch is merely a fictional game from the Harry Potter books and movies, a creation of JK Rowling’s imagination and nothing more. But for one fall weekend, forty-six high school and collegiate teams from across the country and Canada made magic come to life. The International Quidditch Association was born at Middlebury College in 2005, when a group of friends set down real-life rules to a most unreal sport. Since then, there have been four International Quidditch World Cups, with the Middlebury squad reigning supreme in each and every one.

It’s been my honor to be a part of two of those championship teams, and our victory at last weekend’s World Cup at DeWitt Clinton Park in New York City was the most sweet. For most of the sport’s history, the competition has been relatively easy to overcome. Other schools put together ragtag bands of students who were more interested in Harry Potter than in the athletic competition, while Middlebury actively recruited the best high school Quidditch players in the country (just kidding…or am I?). In New York, however, the sport totally came into its own. New and improved teams from D1 sports powerhouses like Texas A&M, University of Minnesota, and Louisiana State were scary opponents — not because of any dark magic, but because of their sheer size and athleticism. Smaller schools with a long history of Quidditch prowess like Emerson, Tufts, and Vassar were able to bring bigger squads since the Cup was in New York instead of far away Middlebury.

But, at the end of the weekend, we kept our title as champs, extending our dynasty for another year. Maybe next year, you’ll be in the huddle with us!

All I do is win.

Our fall teams are dominant: Men’s soccer, Women’s Volleyball and both Men’s and Women’s Cross-Country were NESCAC champions this fall. All four, along with the Field hockey team advanced into NCAA tournament play last weekend. Volleyball finished with a record of 25-6 and was one game away from a free trip to St. Louis for the Sweet Sixteen. The Middlebury College Rugby club, a multi-time D2 National Champion, is the undefeated northeast champion and will be heading to the national playoffs once the snow melts—there is no snow on the ground yet, I’m using figurative language. Both Cross-Country teams are in the air, like flying in airplanes currently, on their way to the NCAA championship in Iowa. Name one town in Iowa. Between the men and women, they have five NCAA D3 Championships in the past ten years, with any luck that number will be six before you read this post. Our men’s soccer team, which won the D3 National Championship in 2007, won its first two NCAA tournament games and will play in the NCAA sectionals at Bowdoin College in Maine this weekend. I am a bandwagon fan only I never fall off the bandwagon because all we do is win.

But what Middlebury athletics most famous for, beyond all the trophies and the looking great, is “Picking Up Butch,” a Middlebury tradition for the past fifty years. Just watch the video, on ESPN. Hopefully they’ll make you watch the Gillette Fusion Proglide commercial beforehand.