Author Archives: Emily Ashby

Visiting “The Castle”

One of the most exciting things about Midd is a chance to be in a community small enough that everyone gets the opportunity to showcase their talents and get a good audience. One of the truly amazing things is how many of these little showcases are put on in any given week–any particular span of 7 days here often includes an a capella concert, a play, a senior piano recital, and a tapdancing performace, just to use this week as an example.

Plays at Middlebury are some of the most heavily attended of these events. There is something at the same time alluring and alarming about seeing friends and acquantainces up on stage, with deep make-up induced wrinkles and in period costume, enduring struggles and triumphs that you know are very different from those that they undergo on a regular basis.

The threatre department at Midd is a tight-knit, friendly place, with many of the same actors playing lead and bit roles during the same semester in everything from Shakespeare to Howard Barker. Barker was, in fact, the playwright of the most recent piece that I attended. Directed by Richard Romagnoli, “The Castle” was true masterpiece of feminist thought, betrayals in love, and questions of punishment and hierarchy. It is a simultaneously dark and comedic play, and seeing the war-torn, ragged students on stage (the main character at some times strapped to the body of her murder victim) was unsettling.

At the same time, it showed the incredible power of the student body to put aside all of their papers, readings, meetings, and cares to submerge themselves into the arts, both as performers and observers. Yes, at this frantic time of year going to see a play is partially escapist, but it is also a way to get to know a whole other side of the everyday life of a small select group of Midd theatre kids.


This is the season for lasts for all Middlebury seniors.

It becomes almost a habit to think of everything coming to an end. This week is the last week that I will work on a thesis regarding Portuguese political movements that has keep me involved for a year and a summer. This Friday is the last time that I will chop and grill and garnish for Dolci restaurant, a project I’ve only recently become involved in. In two weeks I will face my last group of prospective students and parents ever, and for the last time share my amazing time here at Middlebury.

There are so many things that I wish I’d done at Midd–gone to a Pottery Club open house event and gone rock climbing with the Mountain Club to name a few–but so many more things that I’ve dived into and enjoyed.

And I’ve realized that although this is the season for last dinners with freshman roomates and for last trips to see world-class academic lecturers, it is also a time for firsts. For the first time I’m asking other seniors what they will be pursuing as a career, instead on inquiring about their major, and that next step is exciting.

It is satisfying to feel that one phase is being completed. Yes, the idea of lasts can be scary and there will certainly be tears at Commencement, but one specific first has now been opened up to me: first upcoming Reunion to relive all of the good times!

Stepping Out Into Vermont

Vermont is as big or small as you make it. It can seem huge if you try to hit up all of the ski spots of the state during your time here, or if you take off on a maple sugar and local cheese tour, or if you are stuck in a snowstorm while driving the mountain passes back from Boston. But it can also seem quite small, centered on Middlebury, if you’re running a student organization on campus, or taking 5 classes and spending all evenings in the library. The state is amazingly flexible, stretching to the appropriate size for how much free time you have.

This semester, I decided to expand the state just a tad bit. As a senior taking just two courses and a thesis, I decided that I had gotten into a rut—I still love the organizations that I’m involved in and the things that I dedicate my time to, but I needed both a new challenge and a weekly excuse to get off of the campus and into VT.

So I can now proudly introduce myself as Bridport Central School’s new Communications Intern! I was shocked at how readily the opportunity was available—all it took was responding to one of the myriad volunteer opportunity emails, interviewing for 30 minutes, and committing myself to 5 hours a week of writing features on the goings-on in Bridport!

More than anything, I think that this is a perfect example of how dynamic and fast-paced Middlebury is. All that getting involved with a new project takes is taking the plunge—there is a constant stream of emails urging students to act as a Big Brother or Big Sister to a community youngster, or serve food at a town dinner, or give French lessons to kids at a Middlebury elementary school. Getting off campus every once and a while and pledging a few of your talents to the Vermont community is really a rewarding experience, and I’m glad that I figured that out, even if just in my last few Middlebury College months.

Shouldering a Student Org

I thought, before this year, that I knew the staff of the campus fairly well. I knew the general faces of the Proctor dining hall staff, I worked on projects with many of the Admissions workers, and I always remembered the first name of the three central workers at the Mail Center when I picked up packages. I also thought that I had a fair amount of responsibility on me; it was just me that reminded myself of paper deadlines, set my alarm for those dreaded 8.00am classes, and held myself accountable for heading to the non-proctored but mandatory late-night class film screenings.

Boy, was I mistaken. Until I took up the position of co-chair of Middlebury Open Queer Alliance this year, I had not a clue of the duties that some students shoulder. As far as student organizations go, MOQA is a relatively small one; we do not host weekly dinners like Hillel, throw school-wide dances like the Quidditch Club, or design entire sets and choreograph dozens of songs for performances like Riddim. Still, this position has opened my eyes to a whole different side of hard-working Middlebury.  I am accustomed to hearing about terrific academic  work loads and amazingly packed extracurricular schedules, but I have never before been in contact with those who arrange the very events that serve as the backbone of Middlebury’s social life.

Constant emailing, coordinating, checking out of equipment, writing up budgets, arranging for speakers, planning party themes and renting spaces are some of the things that come with leadership roles on campus. It is time-consuming but gratifying; I know the inner workings of the MCAB Speakers Committee and all of the people who work behind the scenes of budgeting activities. This coming April MOQA will be hosting a joint dinner with Women of Color and Feminist Action Middlebury, and just in the preliminary organizing I have come in contact with the most amazing people that I don’t normally rub shoulders with. It feels very right, somehow, that in my final year I’ve have gotten this incredible chance to branch out and serve as a representative for a segment of campus, and gotten to know Midd on an entirely new level of operation.

The Final Frontier

About this time in the semester, I start getting really, really excited about dogs. More specifically, about the Therapy Dogs of Vermont who will be visiting Coltrane Lounge this next Wednesday December 12.  Why are is there a herd of animals making rounds at Middlebury College? The answer is: it is a gift to the students from Counseling Services, in order to lessen our stress during finals week. After all, what better way to lower your level of anxiety than to stroke a Labrador puppy, or to cuddle with a Golden Retriever?

These are just a few ways in which the college helps us poor, besieged students out during the last push. Others ways are by opening the library for 24 hours, bringing in yoga and meditation instructors, and setting up massage sessions. And boy, do we need all of those things.

This last week has been a blur of final classes, research papers, self-scheduled exams, and hours spent with friends bent over books in Wilson Café. But it’s not all bad—the more flexible work schedule means that you generally have a few of your last classes canceled and can arrange your own time, and get sunk into final papers about topics of your own choosing (I am currently in the middle of one on Brazil’s newest welfare system, which is fascinating). And the best thing of all—around you Christmas songs are beginning to be played on the radio, commons are hosting cookie decorating sessions, and there is (usually) a solid half-foot of snow to frolic in.

As a senior, this is a time that I am starting to count my ‘lasts’. Today at 12:05 I walked out of my last Fall semester course ever. Two days ago I turned in my last paper for  400-level course. Today I will be packing my last suitcase before leaving for Winter Break. This all sounds melodramatic, but it is exciting as well, knowing that this time next year I will be out in the world on my own preparing to head home after my first few months of being in the workforce. That goal, as well as the puppies I plan to spend an hour with next Wednesday, are what is getting me though this year’s finals period.

Giving Thanks for the Break

           By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, I couldn’t care less about pilgrims. I wouldn’t mind if the break were to celebrate the opening of the nation’s biggest teddy bear factory, or if the foods eaten were broccoli and sprouts, I am just so ready for a pause.

            I love Middlebury, no question about that (in fact, some would say my being a Senior Fellow, tutor, President and Treasurer of a Student organization and on the Equestrian Team all in the semester nudges ‘love’ toward ‘obsession’).  But I also love the snatches of freedom we get in between intensive work periods, like that of Thanksgiving break. They are so necessary for myriad reasons—getting out of Midd makes you realize how much you miss it, how much you love being surrounded by friends, how odd when you haven’t had at least one serious theoretical conversation with a professor, and how you’re ready to dive back into that research project that you were happy to forget for a few leisurely days.

            I also love Thanksgiving in particular because I find it incredibly quirky. Not having grown up with in the United States, I find a holiday based around odd pairings of food (cranberries and turkey? where else?) and the settling of obscure coastal towns incredibly quaint. I will this year be having my first ‘official’ Thanksgiving feast at a friend’s house in Massachusetts. I have requested of her the real experience, and she assures me that there will be stuffing and American football galore. No matter whether I enjoy the food or not, and I don’t see what can go wrong with pumpkin and spices within a pie crust, the gathering of family around a table will be lovely for someone who gets to see their own parents only a few times a year.

            So to everyone off to their separate homes to sit on the coach, plate of food in hand, and talk and relax for the entirety of this long weekend—enjoy. I will be right there with you.

The Great Abroad

Studying abroad is a rite of passage at Middlebury. After slogging through grammar classes when you really want to be trekking the mountains of Peru, after sitting at language tables when you want to be sitting cross-legged at an Indian dinner, after screening German films about Berlin nightlife for class and getting sucked into them—finally you can experience it all in person!

Of course all of the lead-ups are necessary to reach a sufficient level of the target language, and all of our language immersion models are mini-abroad experiences, but nothing compares to the real thing.

I have dreamed of studying abroad in Spain since I lived there. To clarify—I lived in the south of Spain as a little girl but always watched wistfully as my Spanish friends went off to their classes while I went to international school. I always knew that I wanted to be one of those bespectacled  long-haired, important-looking college students that I saw every time we drove into Seville, and that I too wanted to have that beautiful language passing from my lips.

Finally after two years of college I got that chance, opting for a Middlebury program in Madrid. Knowing that the Spanish university system is not as rigorous as I am used to at Middlebury, I made this tough decision because I knew that all of the teachers hired by the Middlebury program would be challenging, leaders in their academic field, and vetted by the school. And they were. It is difficult trade-off for many students, who want to meet host students, but who want a serious semester abroad with easily transferable credits. I chose to go through a program that I knew was going to be equivalent to my political science track at Middlebury, and figure out a way to join the community in another way.

I did manage that, by volunteering for a one of the madrileño gay rights organizations, and I spent a good chunk of my free time organizing a queer film festival, doing everything from handing out flyers in the gay-friendly district of Chueca to deciding between indie short films to taking tickets at the door. This is my number one recommendation to all prospective and current students who are thinking of studying outside of the United States—find something niche, something that you’re passionate about and find a similar organization to join which abroad (could be a rugby team, a cooking club, or a theatre troop), just anything to get you a secure spot in the community.

To condense a semester abroad into a single blog post is impossible. I traveled all over the country, seeing everything from Goya’s paintings in the Prado museum of Madrid to the beaches of San Sebastian to a flamenco performance in Seville to Gaudi’s extravaganzas in Barcelona. I missed my friends and my Midd community and there were some uncomforts of settling into a brand-new apartment and new transportation system, but I found my groove after not too long and had both a satisfying academic and personal experience. I can’t emphasize enough how much prospective students should already be making plans for their dream semester or year abroad—you have the whole world open to you!

It’s a Disco Weekend!

When I first heard about the DiscoMidd program I was psyched, but for all of the wrong reasons. In Portugal we call clubs discotecas or discos so I immediately conjured up an image of all us Senior Fellows getting dressed in our slinky best and hitting the Vermont nightlife scene.

Lost in translation, apparently.

What DiscoMidd, or Discover Middlebury is actually a program that Middlebury hosts every year which we call a “multicultural open house”—it is open to prospective student who come from under-represented groups at Middlebury: African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American, and American Indian students; students (regardless of ethnicity) with demonstrated financial hardship; and students who are first in their families to pursue a four-year college education.

The idea is that Middlebury provides transportation, food, and housing to this group of 75 students, and shows them what Middlebury is really like, pairing them up with a student host, letting them sit in on classes, attend talks and club meetings, and generally get the feeling for the school.

Upon realizing the real meaning of the program, I became instantly even more excited than when I’d imagined it to be a night on the town, because I knew that I wanted to dive in headfirst to the project. Getting a chance to work on this sort of initiative is precisely the reason that I applied to be a Senior Fellow.

Let me explain a little bit about why this initiative is near and dear to my heart: I grew up shuffling between countries—Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Japan—and never staying in one long enough to learn everything about their school systems. So when I finally decided that I wanted to apply to a college in the United States, I was at a loss for where to start. While my parents were both educated and supportive, they expected me to be independent in my application process and there was no hand-holding or proof-reading of essays. I did not grow up visiting U.S. colleges , did not know which ones were the best or what activities gave me the best shot at getting admitted, and did not have a college guidance counselor to steer my choices. Instead, I spent hours poring over college websites, bought myself a big, fat book of American colleges, and painstakingly pieced together the way to go about filling out forms.

It is not entirely due to  luck that I am at Middlebury; I was always a good student and hard worker, but my path was not as smooth as other from an East Coast high school. I firmly believe that no student should have to go through the process alone, like I did, but should have in place a network of support—family, teachers, counselors, siblings, friends, bosses—that can help them decided where they want to go and help them tackled the logistical mountains to getting there. But for those who do not have this safety net, we, Middlebury should pick up the slack and serve a bigger role.

Because of Middlebury’s commitment to giving students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to the chance to see our school, I will be taking a shuttle up from the Admissions Office to the Burlington airport at 8.45 on a Homecoming Sunday, I will be greeting students as they come in from their trips, I will be shuttling back down with the last trip at 4.00pm, I will be matching them with hosts, and then I will be leading a student question panel from 7.00-9.00pm. And I will be loving every second of it.

The Suite-ness of Senior Housing

           I am in love with my suite. It has been the best part of my year thus far, between riding lessons and nuclear security lectures, amongst Fellowship interviews and films screening and lengthy discussions on the meaning of nature in Jane Eyre. All of those times have been wonderful too, but there is nothing better than returning to my Atwater suite at the end of a day blurred with events and papers and meals, and shaping my own little community.

            I find one of Middlebury’s most charming attributes the feeling of an overarching community, but in my suite I can sculpt my social microcosm—I can be left alone with a mug of tea and a global development article on a Wednesday night, or I can rally my three suitemates to invite all of their extended groups of friends over for 90s music and conversation on a Friday evening before heading out for a night at the social house Tavern. My senior year living has become a way to bring Middlebury to me—to enjoy a cookie that I grab from the dining hall, to hold impromptu board meeting of the Middlebury Open Queer Alliance, and to host my sister (a Midd alum) when she drives up for the occasional weekend.

            In an odd way, the suite is also a transition site. I no longer live in the middle of campus, I can no longer walk outside of my door to hear the hubbub of a Riddim dance performance, or dash thirty seconds into a dining hall. Because I am at one end of campus I feel, in my college way, that I am commuting to class every day. The busyness of my schedule means that I am often out from 8am until dusk, working in the library, attending lectures, meeting up with friends over lunch, and giving information sessions at Admissions, getting back late to my room, unslinging my bag from my shoulder with a sigh. I love this feeling of being a quasi-adult, and sometimes I imagine that I am already in the position that I see myself in eight months from now—living with other young professionals in an apartment in an urban environment, sharing my small trials and triumphs with three other friendly faces. We make suite dinners on the weekends, troop down to the gym together on brisk afternoons, and have one another do quick read-throughs of introductory essay paragraphs, which is exactly what I want out of a future group of working friends.

            I can’t be sure whether Middlebury College deliberately puts senior in these transition residences, or if everyone feels the way that I do about them. I have one foot in college as I enjoy every moment of a lecture about aid strategies in Tanzania, go to concerts, and dig into my mountain of thesis work, but also one foot (perhaps as of yet just a few toes) in the professional world as I apply for jobs, interview, write grant proposals, and generally get myself prepared for the workforce. And my suite is there through everything, inviting, friend-filled, but with traces of the real-world future about it.

Questions and Reflections

As both a pre-emptive and a reflective exercise, I think that it’s a good idea to review the most frequent questions that I have gotten thus far in my presenting experience, along with the most difficult ones. This gives me the chance to both improve on my responses by making them tangible and well-formed, and consider what it is in certain queries that I find hard to formulate an answer to.

I have now more than once been asked how a study abroad experience fits into a student’s total academic experience, and senior year job search. I know that this is a particular concern for those who have hard science and not language majors and consider going abroad a luxury, but I am always quick to say that going abroad can be adjusted to fit any area of study. A Pre-med student can take science classes at the host university in Munich, Germany, shadow a local doctor, and volunteer for a blood drive campaign. An Economics student can study development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or create an independent project around how the Olympics in 2014 will affect the Brazilian economy. A Middkid interested in English can take advantage of our exchange program with Oxford, heading to the source of modern literature and can see the very places about which Dickens, Wordsworth, and Austen wax poetic. Going abroad is an option available to everyone, and one that, having studied and volunteered in Madrid, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal, I highly advise.

Another top question, often more forefront in the minds of parents than prospective students, is how Middlebury prepares its seniors to go out into the world. As someone with only months standing between me and the workforce, I can identify with this worry, but also promise that the Career Services Office is incredibly helpful. Just yesterday I dropped in to have my resumé polished, and have already worked with them to apply for several Fellowships. They have several online job search programs like MOJO and MiddNet that I peruse in my spare time, so I can honestly say that, with a little time and energy, Middkids will have no problem finding their post-college path.

Finally, one tricky question that I have gotten is regarding our setting in rural Vermont. As a student that applied to Middlebury from Tokyo, Japan, I know that there are lots of things that I miss about urban life. That being said, I know that I will have a lifetime of working in cities or suburbs ahead of me, and I chose to take a break from the rushed, impersonal city life for a rural setting where I know the name of the majority of the people that I pass in Proctor while grabbing breakfast. There is something so special about being able to head out spontaneously on hiking trips, about having a community network, that can’t be found in more developed places. Besides the hominess, Middlebury brings so many speakers, bands, and events to campus that you feel as though you are in the middle of a bustling academic metropolis—which you are.