Say you head to the dining hall for lunch one afternoon with a group of friends. You grab your food, your drink, a few napkins (maybe you’re a messy eater–that’s OK), and then meet with your friends again to grab a table.
If you are at Middlebury, and you happen to be at either Ross or Proctor dining halls, you head to one of the long tables, and that is that. You sit across from your friends, and it doesn’t make much of a difference who might be in the general vicinity. Barring a neighbor smelling exceptionally funky, where you actually sit probably won’t matter.
If you go to Atwater dining hall, on the other hand, things are going to be trickier. Atwater only has round tables.
Let’s get back to our scenario. Say you go to lunch around mid-day, things are pretty crowded, and there isn’t a pristine, unoccupied table available. You and your friends are left with two options. If the weather is nice, you can head outside and find a place to sit down. If it’s not, it’s either take a seat on the floor or take the proverbial plunge.
In other words, the odds dictate that between the months of November and March, you are going to have to join a group of relative strangers for lunch. Better/Worse yet, due to the magical nature of circles, your most obvious conversation partner probably won’t be one of your friends.
Long preface, here’s the point: Middlebury is the kind of place where sitting at that table is not only OK but encouraged. Further, Middlebury is the kind of place where that table ends up sharing a conversation. It would be awkward, but doable, to sit down and not make eye contact with any of the strangers sitting nearby. It would be awkward, but doable, to speak to only your friends in hushed tones for the course of the meal.
Instead, the scene you will find at Atwater on any given afternoon is not unlike the one you might expect during freshmen orientation. Students are shaking hands, introducing themselves, and running through the standard introductory conversation. What’s your name? Where are you from? What are you studying? From there, the discussion can take any number of turns.
A common denominator at Middlebury is curiosity. Of course, intellectual curiosity, but social curiosity as well. I met Matt from Little Rock yesterday. He’s a sophomore and majoring in economics. He played club soccer throughout high school, so we spent most of lunch comparing notes on clubs we knew throughout the Southeast.
A situation unique to Middlebury? I certainly hope not. But the takeaway message here is fairly clear: round table or long table, you’re in for a pleasant lunch.