Monthly Archives: February 2011

Education in Action

This semester Education has definitely been on my mind.

One of my favorite courses this semester is Education in America with Professor Tara Affolter. Over the past few weeks we have been exploring topics in education and democracy, social justice, and re-examining the role of a teacher in affirming the identities and experiences of their students. This course is encouraging me to challenge my perception of “education” and find solutions to promote change in our current education system. Needless to say… I’m obsessed.

In addition, as a part of my dual identity at Middlebury, I also work at the Career Services Office (CSO). A resident in the Adirondack House, the CSO has now been grouped with the Alliance for Civic Engagement (ACE), and the Office of Health Professions and Fellowships to create the Center for Education in Action.

All of these offices hold some of the colleges best resources for students. Counselors are always available to meet with students. For example, the CSO offers Open Drop-In hours everyday from 2-5pm for students to meet with a Career Counselor and get advice on cover letters, resumes, or overall career/ internship direction.  In addition, online resources such as MiddNet and MOJO help students search for job and internship opportunities through a huge network of Midd alums that are excited to talk with current students about their career options after Middlebury.

From helping students find jobs and internships to promoting local volunteer and service work, this office ensures that Middlebury students are engaging their academic knowledge outside the classroom. It is truly “Education in Action”.

More than a practice

I never thought about being an athlete because I always considered myself as a “weak” Asian girl who would be easily knocked onto the ground by those strong, intimidating athletes. As the time of graduation approaches and I’m going to depend totally on myself, I decided to become a bit tougher and stronger so that I could survive the real world after Middlebury. Then I registered for the Fencing Workshop during my last J-term. Think about fencing– white jacket, long metal sword and a shiny, mysterious mask– is there anything cooler than that?

With the expectation to be cool and fancy and tough I went to the first class. It was fun. The two coaches, both are students on campus, introduced us some basic techniques of fencing and we did some warm-ups and foot works. Then the real practice began. We all dressed up in those fancy outfits and played around with our weapon (like a real fencer in the old times!). Then we lined up and the coaches asked us to hit them with the weapon in the way that they taught us. When Nick’11, one of the coaches,  told me to thrust him, I extended my arm and “touched” him with the weapon. “It is a touch, not a thrust! You should push harder and bend the weapon!” said Nick. I did so. The weapon was really bent and the tip of it was pressed into his jacket. That must hurt a lot! I quickly took back my arm and asked, “does it hurt?” “No, not at all. You should be stronger on that. ” said Nick.

The Courage to be strong and fearless is the “must-have” for all fencers. I finally got the courage to really “hit” my opponent with the sword. I got hit by others too. It does hurt. And when we started real one-on-one fencing, I got a lot of bruises every time we practiced. At first I was scared of getting bruises; but later on, bruises became my best friends because they helped improve fencing skills. During one fencing practice an epee fencer got half of his nail ripped off and he bled so badly. But he was still smiling. I offered to give him a bandage but the other coach, Clark’13, said “no he’s fine. This is such a small thing that I won’t even call it an injury.”

By the end of the workshop I realized that fencing had had taught me so much:

1.Stay gracious even in the most vicious game.
2.Never feel discouraged.
3.Smile when someone get you bruises, apologize when you get someone bruises.
4.Physical pain is always paid off by psychological gain.
5.The sword is sharp, but it is also flexible.
6.Remember to salute your referee.
7. Practice makes perfect. Always.

In the spring semester I joined the fencing team because fencing is really fun. We will have three off-campus competitions this semester. On the way to be a real fencer there will be pain, but it will be paid off finally.

I am so glad that I joined an athletic team in my senior year. I wish I could do it earlier. The experience is more than just practices. It is a way to build up psychological strength, learn to deal with difficulties with courage and to live on with persistence. It also brings me awesome new friends.

Middlebury is a place to discover your potential on anything. All you need to do is just to try. Looking back to the entire college life at Middlebury, what I appreciate most is that I’ve got the chance to try whatever I wanted to do. My peers are exceptional and I’ve learned so much from them. Middlebury is a small rural campus, but she is filled up by all kinds of intellectuals and future characters that have lighted up my world.

* If you wanna learn more about athletics at Middlebury, you’re encouraged to visit:

Senior (and First Year) Seminars

The flip side of Casey’s coin are, of course, senior seminars.  While intros are full of energy because of the volume of new students grappling with new subject matter, senior seminars are exciting because they are specialized and generally full of people you have interacting with in lower level classes for a few years.

This semester, I’m taking two poli sci seminars, a Seminar in Diplomacy with Professor Leng and a seminar in Chinese Foreign Policy with Professor Teets.  After (almost) four years at Midd, you know a lot of the students in your department, have figured out which professors you simply can’t miss, and have a strong base of knowledge with which to discuss more specialized subject matter.

Here’s why senior seminars serve as such a great capstone to four years at Midd:

Experience: Everyone in your seminar operates from a similarly strong base of knowledge (academic and personal).  Many of my classmates in my Chinese Foreign Policy seminar studied at one of the Middlebury Schools in China.  Several are international students from China.  This richness of my classmates’ personal and academic backgrounds make class discussions interesting and deep.

on that note…

Discussion: The quality of seminars rely on the quality of discussion.  They’re small (capped at 15 students), so there’s no hiding in the back corner.  However, it is easy to facilitate discussion when everyone is coming from a similar background and has unique personal insights to share.

Old is New Again: For some poli sci students (myself included), it’s easy to forget or confuse exactly what Kenneth Waltz‘s theories of international relations entail.  Seminars give everyone a chance to reconsider key theories that they may have been forgotten or confused over the years and consider them in a new, more specialized context.

More relevant to you as applicants is the First Year Seminar program. The First Year Seminar shares a similar philosophy.  They’re small (capped at 15).  While everyone approached the material from different academic backgrounds, they all bring their own personal experience and insights to the table.  First Year Seminars are a great way to make new friends when you first get on campus and an opportunity to explore more specialized material from the beginning of your college career.

Back to 101: Why intros are great

Well, the official course number is actually ECON 155, Introductory Microeconomics. Regardless of what the course number is, I’m the only senior in a class of what is surely over 75% first-years. I need the class to fill a grad school requirement, and plus, I’m interested in it, too.

Apart from generally feeling like a bit of a grandpa in such a sea of  youth (even though I’m sure at least someone in the class is older than me in age), the first two weeks of class have been a fun reminder for me of how exciting–academically and socially–being a first-year is.

As I start the second semester of my thesis and my eighth semester of college (ahh!), I’ve already identified this as the class that will keep me engaged and motivated until the very end. Here’s why:

New people! Halfway through our lectures when we break off into pairs or small groups to work on practice problem sets, most people are already sitting with friends nearby and thus divide themselves easily. Even though I, two weeks ago, didn’t know but one person in the class, I’ve now re-acclimated to that outgoing spunk and interest in meeting new people that I remember having, too, as a first-year, and I’ve made a few new friends and study-buddies for when midterm exams roll around (so soon!). It’s been a good checkpoint for me in making sure that I stay open to new people and friends, even if I am a senior heading out in just a few short months.

New subjects! Economics, even more than its other social science sister subjects, holds a lot of explanatory power about the world. Since it’s an introductory-level class, ECON 155 is the first venture into the discipline for many students. Each class period, Prof. Jessica Holmes (a truly great teacher–and I run into her at the pool sometimes, too!) leads us through a lot of “Aha!” moments and does a great job of helping the class connect basic theory with how the world works. Students’ intellectual excitement is tangible, as many already foresee their futures in business, and others, like me, plan to use econ in the international policy sphere.

Learning moments. Not to say that I’m categorically smarter than first-years, but, fact of the matter is, I do have all but one credit that I need in order to claim a B.A. from Middlebury, and for, say, the new Febs in the class, they’re just getting started. Collaborating on problem sets with underclassmen, I get to contribute the critical thinking and communication skills I’ve been working on these four years, and my younger study partners contribute their perspectives and curiosities that help everyone learn more.

So, although at times, I might feel antiquated, grandfather-y, and generally out of the hip-and-new-up-and-coming-pop-culture loop in my last-semester 101 (who’s this Justin Bieber character..?), being relatively old doesn’t mean I still can’t do some of the academic heavy lifting. Just ask this dude:

Man lifting weights

Middlebury Winter Carnival

You’ve been to a carnival before right? performers and ferris wheels and fortune tellers and machines that turn you into grown ups? None of those things have anything to do with our Middlebury’s Winter Carnival.

Middlebury Carnival—which an email I just received tells me is in its 88th year—is the Middlebury Ski Team’s one home weekend of the year. Everyone loves Winter Carnival mostly because there is no school on Friday. L  o  n  g  W  e  e  k  e  n  d. Aside from the ski races there are also all sorts of activities happening on campus, like a performance by an 80s cover band that has come each of the last 88 years—no really get it? like an 1880’s cover band? Nailed it. There is also a snow sculpture contest in the quad, a Winter Carnival Ball, and new for this year Winter Carnival King and Queen (gender neutral). Its like homecoming in the winter except better because we get a long weekend and no one gets any work done.

Senior Project-Studio Art

Since the fall I have been working hard preparing for my Senior show, in May, which will be culmination of my Studio Art career here at Middlebury.  Its been quite the experience.  I spent a lot of fall semester with “painter’s block”.  Most people are more acquainted with “writer’s block” but both are equally frustrating especially when faced with deadlines.  However, my professors were amazing.  Just as friends comfort a friend who is stuck or feeling like they’ve lost their talent, the art department continued to lift my spirits and told me to keep pushing through.  “Soon, I would find my groove” they assured.  Finally, I got out of the rut during J-term and am in full swing.  Man I feel good.

Let me tell you, nothing feels better than whipping out a painting with ease and satisfaction.  My main focus had been graffiti which has shifted somewhat to compositions that focus on graphic art and lots of bold color–one of the two characteristics of graffiti I’m most drawn to.

This is just the beginning and I am excited to see else I come up with.  I also cannot wait for the rest of the seniors final shows as well.  We have all been working so hard and are all like a little family, living in Johnson together in our studios.

I was also asked to do a mural in Stewart Hall for Brainerd Commons.  Crossing my fingers that project will begin soon too!  Last year I worked with four other students to make a mural in Proctor Dining hall.  Here’s the section I worked on…

This is the first mural to go up in a public place created solely by students.  I, along with the rest of the art community hope that this mural is just the beginning of more student art around campus.  Let the creative juices flow!

Viva el arte!


Already Nostalgic

The reality of time hit when we returned for our final semester at Middlebury after February break.

I spent my break with eight wonderful friends from Middlebury, on a road trip from here to Savannah, Georgia. Six of those eight friends had just graduated as Febs, and the other two and I flew back to campus for the spring semester while the graduates continued the adventure and drove to San Francisco, California.

Watching the Febs graduate and then returning to campus without them made me truly acknowledge that this is our last semester. In the first week, my friends and I threw a potluck, went for walks, and talked about everything we want to make sure to do before we leave the utopia that is Middlebury College. Sure, there are stresses here at times, and yes, not everything is always perfect, but it is hard to complain about life here.

So I will use this week’s blog post to list my favorite aspects about this college — both the deeply meaningful and trivially glorious things — that I want to appreciate at all times for the next four months before graduation:

– Professors who take the time to get to know us, and remember our names.

– The beauty of Vermont in all seasons.

– Our amazing dining hall food and friendly staff.

– The beautiful, comfortable, and clean dorms.

– The ability to take courses in completely new areas while still deeply focusing on my major.

– Constantly meeting new and wonderful people who are passionate.

– Dance parties whenever we want.

– Cross country skiing around the golf course or at Bread Loaf.

– Singing with the Mischords (my a cappella group).

– Having someone willing to go on an adventure with me at any time.

– Hiking around Vermont.

– Apple picking in the fall.

– The Middlebury farmer’s market.

– The friendly businesses around town who remember us.

– Good Vermont cheeses.

– Road biking on sunny days.

– Running with friends around the golf course.

– Having amazing speakers and events available to me for free all of the time.

– Fresh air.

– The diversity of interests that my friends have.

– The cool accomplishments that people have made.

– The potential to get on board with a project anytime.

– Free dance and yoga classes.

– Subsidized music lessons.

– Hanging out on the lawn with friends in the spring.

– Learning a new language with an enthusiastic professor who is a native speaker of that language.

– Making brunch with friends on the weekends.

– Themes parties for no good reason other than to have a theme.

– The variety of activities that I get to participate in every day.

The Beginning of the End

So perhaps this is going to sound overdramatic and sentimental,  but kids we’ve reached the beginning of the end.  Back on campus for my last semester at Middlebury, my mind constantly wonders back to the beginnnings of my inklings that Middlebury was even a place that I was interested in making a part of my life.

This time, four years ago, I was a sitting duck.  Second semester senoritis – Relax, but do not slack off! – was setting in and translating my early decision acceptance to a life.  I was in love with Middlebury, but not having started here yet, I couldn’t even begin to fathom the eclectic experiences that I would have here.  The number of days that I was extremely excited by coming to Middlebury were tempered with days when I grew terrified that sitting in the middle-of-nowhere Vermont I would follow a very linear path that would lead me to an English major and a publishing career.  Both are perfectly valid choices – I’m still pursuing a minor in English and jobs in the literary world – but the point is that I was terriffied about feeling stuck here, but my time at Middlebury has been the least stuck that I’ve felt in my life.  There were other days that I worried that I would just not be cooky enough for this place that gets stereotyped as only flannel and granola, but Middlebury is what you make of it and you will be what you let it make you.

The greatest gift that Middlebury has given me has been freedom from the feeling that I always need to have my next move pre-planned and fit into some larger life plan.  I still overthink things sometimes, but Middlebury has been a time when I’ve been able to just go with whatever came my way.  Four years ago I would never have imagined that Middlebury would lead me to Costa Rica to teach English for a J-term, to Germany or Argentina for research and a semester abroad respectively, or to logrolling or joining a social house on campus.  How could I have known that I would try rugby or take a class about the state of Islamic women in Germany?  How could I know that I would get an opportunity to do publicity for a restaurant in town?  How would I know that my friends would hail from far and near from California to Hong Kong?  And that the options for next year would range from Boston to Thailand?

I chose Middlebury because it intrigued me.  I chose the school that I would most regret not attending.  At times, Middlebury scared me, but somewhere in the fear of getting stuck I got this glimpse that maybe Middlebury would mold me into something I’d never imagined before and as I begin to reach the end of that road, I can’t imagine it any other way.

My Feb Break!

Ben is right. It has been a while since we last updated our blog. So much has happened and we all have a lot to share. I will start with my February break.

So two summers ago, I founded HELA, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Afghan women through education. HELA, Inc., aims to build girls’ schools, women’s centers, and high-school athletic fields for girls around the country. HELA’s founding was inspired by the need to build the first girls high school in Qalatik—my ancestral—village in Laghman Province.

In 2006, elders from my village approached my family to help build a school for them. Back then, I had recently returned from a one-year high-school exchange program in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin I had the opportunity to talk about Afghanistan in various settings. After hearing about the need for a school in my ancestral village, I paid a visit to what was a piece of donated land by a villager to be used as a school. There I saw 13 volunteer men and women from the village teaching children, letting the shade of the few trees delineate the classroom areas. The entire school of about 700 students owned three half-broken blackboards. First-grade children used small rocks to practice counting in their math class.

I was inspired by the students’ enthusiasm despite their circumstances, and the village elders’ dedication to providing education to their daughters. One of the elders told me, “Our sons can walk 4 kilometers to go to a high school. But our daughters… this [middle school] is all they get. As a father, I cannot look into my daughter’s eyes to tell her there is no more education for her. We want a high school for our daughters.” So far the school has six classrooms and a deep drinking well, thanks to an anonymous donor. My hope is to turn this school into the first girls high school in Qalatik village. In order to make that happen, I needs to raise enough money to build additional classrooms, provide teacher training and improve the school curriculum. Building this school inspired HELA’s founding, and has inspired me to accomplish much more for the women of Afghanistan.

HELA is still pending IRS approval to receive a tax exempt status. This has been a hurdle as I try to fundraise to build the school in my ancestral village. However, Middlebury College has agreed to support my fundraising initiative!!! “The HELA Project for Afghanistan” is a $100,000 fundraising initiative supported by Middlebury College on behalf of HELA, Inc. Funds raised through this initiative will support the building of the first girls’ high school in my ancestral village in Laghman Province. I will build the school this summer after I graduate from Middlebury College. Girls in my ancestral village will be able to attend high school for the very first time.

I took advantage of this Feb break to give talks about HELA and the fundraising initiative in different high schools. On February 1 I drove all the way to Boston only to find out most schools were canceled on February 2 and 3 because of the snow storm. Two of my speaking engagements at schools were canceled. Nonetheless, I made it to my last two destinations without any cancelations. I spoke with a group of high school students in Wesport, CT. They are trying to raise money for HELA. Although these fundraisings are small-scale but they add up and are powerful in that they are mutually beneficial to American high school students and Afghan students.

5 Reasons to LUV Spring

It’s a NEW semester! While the Fall semester is full of fall foliage, apple picking, and trips to harvest festivals,  the Spring brings new life and adventure on campus! Here my FIVE FAVORITE Spring events:

5. Winter Carnival

One of the biggest weekend events of the year, Winter Carnival is both a celebration of skiing and the beginning of a new semester filled with outdoor winter activities, snow sculptures, an 80’s Dance,  and an elaborate Winter Ball. Oh… and did I mention… it’s a 3 day weekend! Buy your tickets now to all the great events!

4. Spring Break

Just when you have had enough of the snow it’s time for SPRING BREAK. While the snow is still melting in Vermont it’s time to escape the cold and find refuge in the SUN. You will need that extra splash of Vitamin D for final exams ahead.

3. Shorts/ SUN

As soon as it is over 50 degrees it’s time to put away the heavy winter coats and bust out those long awaited shorts! I think this is a phenomenon that only occurs in the state of Vermont. In Arizona 50 degrees is definitely still winter weather. However, when the shorts are out the sun and warmer weather are only days away! While I love the colors of fall foliage, there is nothing more beautiful than watching the flowers and leaves come back into bloom just in time for Spring!

2 . Lake Dunmore

One of my favorite days of the Spring Semester is the sunny Saturday when half the campus goes and spends the day at Lake Dunmore. This local lake only 20 minutes from campus is definitely a student favorite!

1. New Febs

Maybe I am biased, but the energy and the excitement of the 100 new Febs makes the cold winter a little warmer. You can always spot a new Feb because they are the ones that will always smile at you along the path or introduce themselves to you at the salad bar in Proctor.

From FEBS to better weather there is clearly a lot to look forward to during the Spring at Middlebury!