With Winter Term registration come and gone, now is an ideal time to play one of my favorite games. Below are ten Winter Term courses. Five are real. Five are fake.
I should preface this by noting that the J-Term Game (©) should not be construed as a comment on the academic or other value of any of the real courses. Please direct all complaints to my colleague, Arthur Choo. Answers below: T = True, F = Fake.
1) “Modern Family” and the Modern Family
In this course, we explore the relationship between the ABC sitcom and the “real,” modern American family. What can sitcom culture teach us about gender and familial roles in 21st century American life? What is the dialectic between the two?
2) Experiential Anatomy & Yoga
Experiential anatomy involves learning about the body through the body. In this anatomy and kinesiology course, we will study the skeletal system the neuro-muscular, endocrine, organ, and circulatory systems.
3) Dancing in the Dark
An exploration of shadow, movement, and the human form, this course will ask its participants to play with all three concepts in a series of improvisational and “scripted” performances without the benefit of standard lighting.
4) Arachnophobia, Arachnophilia
For many people arachnids trigger fear, from simple unease to clinical arachnophobia. For others, arachnids evoke admiration and inspiration. We will examine depictions of arachnids and why they elicit such divergent psychological responses.
5) Giving Meaning to Ordinary Time: Exploring the Jewish Sacred Calendar
Beginning with an overview of the history and evolution of Jewish culture and religion, we will examine the holy days and holidays of Judaism. We will also examine contemporary issues of gender, emerging practices, and the portrayal of religious holidays in pop culture.
6) Lipids and the Obesity “Epidemic”
The expanding, American waste-band poses a challenge to policy makers, sociologists, and economists alike. In this course, we look at the biological foundations of weight gain. What can science teach us about weight gain, and what implications could this knowledge have for policy makers?
7) Persuasive Legal Writing
In this intensive reading and writing course, students will practice writing persuasive arguments while analyzing contemporary legal issues. We will acquire a basic understanding of the way disputes are resolved within the U.S. legal system.
8) How to Win Friends and Influence People
Dale Carnegie’s iconic, self-help book suggests there is an identifiable formula for gaining friends and social authority. Is he right? In this course we adopt the social scientist’s analytical method to explore the validity of what has become a veritable Bible for the 20th century “social climber.”
9) “Alternative” Music
The very existence of “alternative rock” suggests that we can identify a “conventional rock.” Exploring the development of rock through the 1980s and 1990s, we will attempt to answer whether such a title makes musical sense. The course will include extended explorations of Nirvana, the Stone Temple Pilots, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
10) Journeys to the Edge: Mountain Exploration and Adventure
In this course, we will examine the history and culture of mountain exploration and adventure through literature, nonfiction narrative, film, and guest presentations. Students will trace changing cultural attitudes toward risk, adventure, masculinity, and wildness.
Answers: (1) F (2) T (3) F (4) T (5) T (6) F (7) T (8) F (9) F (10) T.
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.
Coming back from a full year abroad, I pictured my first few weeks at Middlebury as a disheartening series of handshakes and reintroductions–something along the lines of “Hi, I’m Zach, I used to be your friend before I went away for a year.” What I had forgotten was that I was not the only one with such fears. With over 60% of the class studying abroad for at least a semester, my worries were shared by just about everyone, even the students that had chosen to stay on campus.
I walked into the dining hall the first night with nightmares taken directly from every bad Molly Ringwald movie. She’s holding a lunch tray, she looks around the cafeteria, sees no friendly faces, hears murmuring that may or may not refer to how awkward she looks, just standing there; she breaks down, runs screaming–it’s terrifying.
My experience was a little different. First, Middlebury no longer has lunch trays (promotes more reasonable portions, less waste, fewer chances for students to hurt themselves riding makeshift sleds during the winter). Second, the first thing I saw in the cafeteria were old friends bounding toward me, attempting to give me awkward hugs that didn’t ruin their shirts with tomato sauce. That scene has repeated itself for most of the past two weeks. As more and more students made their way to campus, I found everything fitting into place, almost effortlessly.
The same goes for the academic experience. Studying in England was, I’m sure, not like studying in another language. Yet the tutorial system at Oxford is a distinct approach with distinct practices and expectations. Once again, I found myself making my way back into the coursework at Middlebury with surprising comfort. It was almost as if I had once gone to school here.
It is now clear that the most difficult part of the experience, at least in my case, will have little to do with social or academic reintegration. Far more trying, and perhaps far more significant in the long run, will be avoiding a total reintegration and the excessive comfort that entails. That is, failing to apply the lessons and experience gained abroad to my life here. It’s shockingly easy to get back into the same habits, to do the same things as before. But if studying abroad has any lasting value (and I think most students you find here would argue, rather passionately, that it does), then something should change. This may require a more deliberate approach than I anticipated. It may require asking myself, when thinking about preparing an essay for example: “How did I do this in England, and how might that improve my work here?”
If you have an image of me sitting at my desk talking to himself while looking back at old essays, then you’re spot on. I have had little trouble finding my groove again. The main goal now is finding that balance between comfort and complacency. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot. I’ll be sure to let you know when I find it.