Author Archives: Shabana Basij-Rasikh

Murmur — Hear It Here

As most senior fellows mentioned in their recent blog posts, it is time for us to wrap up our undergraduate career and leave. Needless to say, Middlebury will always be a home to come back to, but, we won’t be blogging for a while. Next year, you will hear from another group of senior fellows.

Until then, I highly encourage you to update yourself about Middlebury through MURMUR! Murmur is a bunch of recorded stories about different locations on campus.

You can simply call 802.443.2600. To hear a story, you will be asked to enter a 3-digit code. Here are a few codes for locations on campus:

111: Axxin Center at Starr Library
112: Battell South
113: McCardel Bicentennial Hall/Great Hall
114: McCardel Bicentennial Hall/Greenhouse
115: Bikeshop at Adirondack House
116: The Bunker at FIC
117: Mohaney Center for the Arts
118: Coltrane Lounge in Ross Commons
119: Dog Sculpture at Munroe Hall
121: Franklin Environtmental Center
122: Gifford Hall
123: Mead Chapel (Harris)
124: Parton Health Center
125: Johnson Memorial Building
126: Davis Family Library
127: Mead Chapel (Marlow)
128: Natatorium in Athletics Complex
129: McCardel Bicentennial Hall/Observatory
131: Proctor Dining Hall
132: Stewart Hall

Hear a story!

“How Did You Get Here?”

“How Did You Get Here?” is stories of Middlebury students collected by Middlebury Fellows in Narrative Journalism. This project was launched in 2008. This fellowship seeks “highly motivated and intellectually curious students” who are interested in nurturing their skills in narrative journalism.

These fellows who are Middlebury students have done a phenomenal job in gathering digital portraits of other Middlebury students.

If you want to get a sense what kind of students form and enrich our community, please listen to their stories here.

Videos of this project from 2010 can be found here.


Explore Middlebury Video Snapshots!

If you would like to get a good snapshot of Middlebury College and what we are all about, be sure to check out these videos!

And, our very own senior fellow Ben Wessel is featured in one the videos speaking about his passion for the environment!

You can also view the videos separately under the following categories:



Student Life


Academic Life

Enjoy the videos!

Spring Symposium, 2011

One of the most exciting annual events at Middlebury is the spring symposium. Each year Middlebury students from all four classes present and perform at the symposium. This year there are 306 oral and visual presentations and performances that will take place in Bicentennial Hall on Friday, April 15! It is a time of celebration; parents, family members, and friends come to Middlebury from all over the country to join students for this amazing day! Students share their thesis work, independent project findings, and a variety of other projects that they have been working on.

A little bit of self promotion: I will be presenting on my non-profit organization, HELA, and my thesis “Expert Discourse around Women’s Bodies and Their Subjugation: Imagining and Being the Afghan Woman.”

This year’s keynote speaker is a Middlebury alumnus, Brad Corrigan ’96: “Brad Corrigan ’96, member of the bands Dispatch and Braddigan, is the founder of Love, Light and Melody a non-profit in Nicaragua. A music major while at Middlebury he also studied Environmental Ethics and Philosophy.”

For a complete list of presenters and a detailed schedule for the symposium, please click here.

Here are some images from previous symposiums:

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.


Finals week is a very stressful time of the year for students. This year, the finals period was really short because we did not have the reading period between the end of classes and the start of finals. During finals some students move-in to the library. Thankfully, the library is functioning on 24/7 basis during the last two weeks of the semester. Although a very stressful time, we manage to have fun.

There is an amazing tradition of “Midnight Breakfast” at Middlebury. Ask a Midd alum about it. This year, Midnight breakfast was sponsored by the Student Government Association. Midnight breakfast is usually from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Students start lining up behind the dining hall doors around 10:30 p.m.—it says a lot about how popular midnight breakfast is among Midd Kids. Dining halls at this time serve the usual breakfast menu and tons of cookies and other snacks. It is a fun break from studying for exams and papers!

For international students, it is yet another time of the year when they realize how much they are loved and cared for by their community. Town friends will make sure that we have our snacks during this time! I always receive emails from my town friends who are concerned about my health, reminding me that I should take short breaks and exercise. They send me—or personally bring to my dorm room—care packages. I always have homemade cookies, banana bread or zucchini bread during finals.

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:

The Fun of Being a Ross-er!

Middlebury College is residential campus, with 98 percent of the senior class living on campus. Our housing system is based on the “commons system.” I haven’t seen the Harry Potter movies, but some describe Middlebury’s system as similar to Hogwarts School’s. We have five commons, Atwater, Brainerd, Cook, Ross, and Wonnacott. Each has a dean, faculty heads, coordinator, commons residential advisors (CRA), first-year counselors (FYCs), and residential advisors (RAs). FYCs and RAs are usually well-trained Middlebury juniors and seniors who live in freshman and upper-class housing respectively. The idea behind the commons system is to create smaller and more integrated communities within our already tightly-knit community. Around 450 students are assigned to each commons with their own dean, faculty heads, CRA, FYCs, and RAs. As a freshman, you’re most likely to share a room, but your options improve every year. Sophomores can choose singles or doubles, shared suites, or houses with friends. There are academic-interest housing as well as social houses, as well as houses for every language taught here! The latter aren’t necessarily tied to a commons.

Commons host dinners with remarkable visiting speakers. These dinners provide opportunities such as eating with Victor Zhikai Gao, translator for Deng Xiaoping (China’s Premier during its ’80s economic reforms). For the student interested in Chinese politics and history, that is one amazing event! Commons also sponsor events such as trips to Burlington, the largest city in Vermont, 45 minutes north of Middlebury.
I live in Ross Commons, and I love it! My freshman year I lived in a suite with five other girls whom I consider my “Middlebury Family.” One room combined Afghanistan with South Burlington; another, CT with NYC/Thailand; and the third, NYC with Kenya. We had an amazing year together. Although I chose a single room as a sophomore, some of my close friends lived on my floor. I studied in Egypt my junior fall and roomed with an Egyptian, returning to Ross in the spring. You’re only required to live in your commons for the first two years. You then can live anywhere on campus while retaining your affiliation with your commons, and receiving notice of dinner speakers, and generally staying in touch, especially with your dean. I stayed at Ross, which has great senior housing choices (my personal bias). I live in an enormous single twice as big as my freshman double! It is great, with the best view of the Adirondack Mountains as the sun slowly disappears beyond.

Vermont’s unpredictable weather patterns brought us snow just a few days ago—and I didn’t even have to leave the building! I went to the dining hall in my PJs while others bundled up. I happened to have only one class that day—and we meet at Ross! I spent the rest of the day in the study room, working on my grad school application.