This past weekend I traveled to Hillsborough, NJ to compete with Middlebury’s cycling team in the first race of the spring season. The forecast called for rain, but the minute we pulled up to Saturday’s race course, the sun came out and we jumped out of the van eager to catch some rays. The other teams thought we were crazy for running around in shorts, but after a Vermont winter, even one as mild as this year’s, 50 degrees felt like summer.
The group of us competed in a road race through New Jersey horse country on Saturday and raced around a park in a circuit race on Sunday. Winter is a tough time to be a cyclist-even if the ground is clear of snow, cold temperatures and the possibility of ice patches on the roads lead all but the most daring of souls to move training rides inside. After months of staring at a dorm room wall while pedaling in place, the open road was pure bliss. Driving back to Midd last night, I couldn’t wait to get back outside on my bike, but I woke up this morning to find a fresh dusting of snow. I plan on enjoying this last bit of winter then willing it away–it’s time for spring to come!
Intellectual fireworks often go off at Middlebury. Generally, they are of the metaphorical variety: Two students are finishing off a marathon dinner and the conversation turns to the seminar they just attended. There, one student, for perhaps the third time that week, thought about an issue in a way he or she had never considered before. The dining mate commiserates, and then they argue, and things go from there—personal growth ensues.
Last Thursday night, I experienced fireworks of a different variety. I had curled up with Max Weber
’s Protestant Ethic
for the evening (a surly bed partner if there ever was one), gradually becoming enmeshed in the work. Suddenly, Weber’s points were hitting me with palpable strength. The walls shook with every “however,” each “therefore” boomed across the room. Indeed, there was a hue to the words, now red, now blue, now glittering silver. I looked up from the book toward my window to find the Winter Carnival
fireworks in full force. Take away point? Weber’s pretty good. Relationship to this blog? Middlebury makes him better.
Yesterday I had lunch in French. In Middlebury, Vermont. In Ross Dining hall. All of this was made possible because of language tables, where you can sit with seven other students and a professor and practice your language skills over the real life setting of lunch. Language tables offer an amazing opportunity to practice your new language outside of the classroom, and to learn how to say important things like, “Please pass the salt” or “This hamburger is delicious” in whatever language you’re learning. For me, the coolest thing about language tables is to listen to the din of other languages being spoken all around you at other tables. Yesterday, aside from the French tables, there were also students enjoying their lunch in Japanese, Italian and Portuguese. For an hour out of the day, students took a break from their lives in English and practiced living, eating, socializing in another language, all made possible because of language tables.
One of Middlebury’s greatest academic strengths is foreign languages, and there are so many opportunities to improve your language skills here, even outside of class. Aside from dutifully attending language tables and increasing your culinary vocabulary, students can also choose to live in a language house, where they will live with other students also studying their language and pledge to only speak that language when in the house. Language houses for Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and German are sprinkled across campus, each with dedicated student residents and a TA, a college student from that country living and working at Middlebury for a year. Living in a language house is like an abbreviated experience abroad as you are living your language instead of just speaking it for an hour each day in class.
All this is to say that Middlebury is an exciting place to learn a new language, or continue one you’ve already started. Although we are located in a small town in Vermont, there are so many ways to transport yourself to another country and another culture, even if it’s just for lunch.