Category Archives: Academics

Middlebury Student Bloggers

Midd students are opinionated and enjoy sharing their opinions with others.  This fosters lively class discussions as well as countless high-quality student-run blogs.  I’d like to use this post to promote just a few of them.

MiddBlog is Middlebury’s blog for students by students.  Their latest features a letter from Tik Root, the Middlebury student who just returned to the US after being held for two weeks in a Syrian jail after being detained at a demonstration in Damascus.  MiddBlog is great to get a perspective on what is being discussed on campus and provides links to the blogs of other students and administrators.

21CB describes itself as “a fresh, thoughtful voice on the current affairs, popular culture, and web trends of Asia and the Asian diaspora.”  This blog was founded by a Middlebury senior from HK and features contributions from several other Midd students, all of whom have a background in Asia.  (Full disclosure: several of my friends are contributors).

And now for some shameless self-promotion: This blog originated as a project for a seminar I took in the fall, International Order in the 20th Century with Prof. James Morrison.  The blog hosts a podcast series in which three classmates and I discuss some of the key issues from class.  What is the nature of order (and disorder) in the international system?  What is the role of state sovereignty in the context of international integration?  What will the rise of China mean for the structure of the international system?  We discuss these questions and more over the course of five podcasts.

Jimmy Wong

Every once in a while a Middlebury graduate becomes at least a little famous. This fall it was ’10 graduate Cassidy Boyd, who danced in Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R” video (leopard print onesie on the left at the start). In fact, if you had been reading this blog a year ago it would be Cassidy posting instead of me. beForeshadowing?

This past week ‘09.5 graduate Jimmy Wong’s response to a… ah… less than politically correct video posted by a UCLA student racked up 2,067,001 views on YouTube. Jimmy is a multi-talented singer/actor/¿gymnast? who was best know at Midd for his band, which crushed parties all over campus. Keep up the good work Jimmy, also if you know any female celebrities who are looking for a boyfriend please let me know.

Nostalgic about my semester abroad

Today of last year was the first day of my semester abroad in Berlin, Germany. I reached Berlin Tegel airport after a 10+ hour’s fly and my Middlebury friend Stanis, who arrived days earlier than I did, came and picked me up. It was still chilly in Berlin in mid-March, but my heart was filled with warm greetings from my friend. Excited but also a bit unsure what’s gonna happen in the semester, I calmly moved into my room after a long subway ride from the airport.

The semester in Berlin starts in late March and ends in late July. Students who attend Middlebury Study Abroad Program in Berlin will enroll as exchange students in a local university called Free University-Berlin (Freie Universitaet-Berlin). We take the same courses as other German students, do the same assignments and exams, and will have to write a 12-page paper (1.5 spaces) in German for each course.

It sounds a bit intimidating for me– I only have learned two years of German! But after the first meeting with Heike Fahrenberg, the residential academic director of the school abroad in Berlin, I was relieved and felt ready to go: all I needed to do to survive was just to be bold and broad-minded. What’s good about Middlebury’s study abroad program is that we have 30+ actual schools outside of the US, which means we have an office, a group of staffs and tutors in each of these schools to help you go through all the processes and challenges you might have during the time abroad.

Can’t believe it’s already one year since the first day I got there. I did had a great time in Berlin. Berlin is so different from Vermont. It is a VERY big city with over three million population. If you take subway to go from the east of the urban area to the west, it takes three hours. The university there is also completely different from Middlebury. There are 20,000+ students studying there and the students do not live “on campus”. Actually there is no real campus, but all the university buildings spread out the entire southwest part of Berlin. There were six students from Middlebury studying abroad in Berlin in spring 2010, and we all lived in places all over the city. The Middlebury program helped me find a dorm. The dorm buildings in Berlin were not properties of the university. They belong to a company in Berlin and the company assign dorms to all the students in Berlin.  I lived in a dorm with five other suite mates who were from different universities in Berlin and pursuing different degree programs.

It took me some time to get adjusted to this new environment. I was too used to attending very small classes, seeing my classmates after class, going ask professor questions whenever they are in 0ffice… but in Berlin three of my classes had over 150 students, and one seminar had around 30 students. Everything was far away– I have to commute 40 minutes by bus to go from my dorm to classes, and another 30 minutes to dining halls or libraries.

Fortunately the staff in Middlebury school in Berlin was so supportive and helpful. Each of us students was paired up with a tutor who helped us with writing and speaking German. The director provided us great information about the city and the university. Berlin was awesome. It was covered by dark history but also has bright perspective for future. The people there were from very diverse background and of course, the beer and sausage was fantastic. The Middlebury program also provided us some fund to travel. I traveled around eighteen cities in Germany, and the trips made me grow significantly. Looking back, the semester in Berlin was a completely new experience– I learned to plan carefully and be rushing from this bus to another subway train, face difficulties with courage and maturity, and learn from different cultures even within Germany.

And in the end, I survived, with two years of study of German . The last day I was in Berlin three of the Middkids, Stanis, Donny, and I went to a plaza in the city center, and Donny was so excited that he started hip-hoping in English and generated lots of applaud from Germans. What a great way to celebrate our semester abroad!!

I am really thankful that Middlebury provided me such a great opportunity to experience city life in another culture. Middlebury’s campus is way beyond the Vermont border. As long as you’re passionate about a culture, possibilities are always waiting for you at Middlebury.

 

 

Awesome Speakers

Middlebury brings awesome speakers to campus… all the time.
The true challenge for all of us is figuring out how to go to more talks, because many Middlebury students are involved in time-demanding activities and projects, from a cappella, to sports, to all sorts of organizations.

This week, I decided to make some time for two fantastic talks. I am really happy that I was able to attend these two lectures — a lot of the issues that were discussed will stay with me.

On Tuesday, Gary Hirshberg, the CEO of Stonyfield Farms Yogurt, came to campus to talk to us about why the world needs organic food now. His talk went beyond preaching to the choir — interesting issues of biology and toxins in newborn baby cord blood came up in a discussion.

Today, I went to an amazing talk by Jay Allison, an independent public producer and broadcast journalist. He is well known for his work on This American Life, The Moth, NPR’s All Things Considered, and NPR’s This I Believe. Since Middlebury has a relatively small student body, we have the opportunity to get into a conversation with speakers during and after their talks. Jay Allison spent a little over a half hour talking about the power of telling something true in stories and on the radio, and the audience, comprised of students, faculty, staff, and community members, was entranced by his sincere lecture and the sound clips he played for us. After his talk, there was time for questions and answers, but it felt more like a casual conversation — the room was small and almost everyone who wanted to speak got the chance to speak.

An energy brewed in the room as the lecture went on, and by the end of the talk, people were gathered in groups, talking and feeling inspired. At moments like these, I think about all of the lectures that I didn’t get the chance to attend. So much food for thought and so many valuable lessons can come out of a short talk. In many ways, these talks are as valuable to our college academic experiences as our courses are.

If you are going to be attending Middlebury next year, I highly recommend taking advantage of these opportunities. These speakers may change your perspectives on a fundamental issue, or may lead you to realize that you have new interests you’d like to pursue. It’s always worth the time.

Languages at Middlebury

Middlebury is famous for its language program for good reason. The language school in the summer is not the only linguistic claim to fame. Throughout the year, Middlebury students have the opportunity to learn Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

Taking a language is a very different experience from taking any other course. It is a full-fledged experience. Although it would be impossible to have a language pledge during the academic year (the language pledge in the summer is signed by all students and stipulates that the students will hereby exclusively speak the language they are learning for the rest of the summer), Middlebury College students experience language learning in a similar way.

When we are taking the introductory level of a language, we meet with our small class and professor at least five times per week. In certain languages, such as Chinese, introductory languages can meet as many as seven times per week. Yes, I know that sounds really overwhelming, but it ends up being an incredible shared experience with your classmates and professor. Every day, students have the opportunity to eating lunch at language tables, where you are served by waiters in your language (who are other students who speak that language), and you sit with professors and students who are at all levels of speaking ability. You get to know the professor incredibly well, and you finish a year of a language with a conversational ability to speak!

At Middlebury, I have taken German. I grew up speaking French and Spanish, so I wanted to try a non-Romance language (granted, I did not venture too far away). It has definitely been more challenging than, say, Italian or Portuguese would have been. But I have come to love the process. It is a learning experience that requires building on the previous semesters of coursework, and it is also a cultural experience. Most of the Middlebury language professors are native speakers of the languages they teach, and they make an effort to incorporate a lot of their personal and national experiences into the classroom discussion. German courses will be one of my fondest academic memories of Middlebury.

Education in Action

This semester Education has definitely been on my mind.

One of my favorite courses this semester is Education in America with Professor Tara Affolter. Over the past few weeks we have been exploring topics in education and democracy, social justice, and re-examining the role of a teacher in affirming the identities and experiences of their students. This course is encouraging me to challenge my perception of “education” and find solutions to promote change in our current education system. Needless to say… I’m obsessed.

In addition, as a part of my dual identity at Middlebury, I also work at the Career Services Office (CSO). A resident in the Adirondack House, the CSO has now been grouped with the Alliance for Civic Engagement (ACE), and the Office of Health Professions and Fellowships to create the Center for Education in Action.

All of these offices hold some of the colleges best resources for students. Counselors are always available to meet with students. For example, the CSO offers Open Drop-In hours everyday from 2-5pm for students to meet with a Career Counselor and get advice on cover letters, resumes, or overall career/ internship direction.  In addition, online resources such as MiddNet and MOJO help students search for job and internship opportunities through a huge network of Midd alums that are excited to talk with current students about their career options after Middlebury.

From helping students find jobs and internships to promoting local volunteer and service work, this office ensures that Middlebury students are engaging their academic knowledge outside the classroom. It is truly “Education in Action”.

Senior (and First Year) Seminars

The flip side of Casey’s coin are, of course, senior seminars.  While intros are full of energy because of the volume of new students grappling with new subject matter, senior seminars are exciting because they are specialized and generally full of people you have interacting with in lower level classes for a few years.

This semester, I’m taking two poli sci seminars, a Seminar in Diplomacy with Professor Leng and a seminar in Chinese Foreign Policy with Professor Teets.  After (almost) four years at Midd, you know a lot of the students in your department, have figured out which professors you simply can’t miss, and have a strong base of knowledge with which to discuss more specialized subject matter.

Here’s why senior seminars serve as such a great capstone to four years at Midd:

Experience: Everyone in your seminar operates from a similarly strong base of knowledge (academic and personal).  Many of my classmates in my Chinese Foreign Policy seminar studied at one of the Middlebury Schools in China.  Several are international students from China.  This richness of my classmates’ personal and academic backgrounds make class discussions interesting and deep.

on that note…

Discussion: The quality of seminars rely on the quality of discussion.  They’re small (capped at 15 students), so there’s no hiding in the back corner.  However, it is easy to facilitate discussion when everyone is coming from a similar background and has unique personal insights to share.

Old is New Again: For some poli sci students (myself included), it’s easy to forget or confuse exactly what Kenneth Waltz‘s theories of international relations entail.  Seminars give everyone a chance to reconsider key theories that they may have been forgotten or confused over the years and consider them in a new, more specialized context.

More relevant to you as applicants is the First Year Seminar program. The First Year Seminar shares a similar philosophy.  They’re small (capped at 15).  While everyone approached the material from different academic backgrounds, they all bring their own personal experience and insights to the table.  First Year Seminars are a great way to make new friends when you first get on campus and an opportunity to explore more specialized material from the beginning of your college career.

Back to 101: Why intros are great

Well, the official course number is actually ECON 155, Introductory Microeconomics. Regardless of what the course number is, I’m the only senior in a class of what is surely over 75% first-years. I need the class to fill a grad school requirement, and plus, I’m interested in it, too.


Apart from generally feeling like a bit of a grandpa in such a sea of  youth (even though I’m sure at least someone in the class is older than me in age), the first two weeks of class have been a fun reminder for me of how exciting–academically and socially–being a first-year is.

As I start the second semester of my thesis and my eighth semester of college (ahh!), I’ve already identified this as the class that will keep me engaged and motivated until the very end. Here’s why:

New people! Halfway through our lectures when we break off into pairs or small groups to work on practice problem sets, most people are already sitting with friends nearby and thus divide themselves easily. Even though I, two weeks ago, didn’t know but one person in the class, I’ve now re-acclimated to that outgoing spunk and interest in meeting new people that I remember having, too, as a first-year, and I’ve made a few new friends and study-buddies for when midterm exams roll around (so soon!). It’s been a good checkpoint for me in making sure that I stay open to new people and friends, even if I am a senior heading out in just a few short months.

New subjects! Economics, even more than its other social science sister subjects, holds a lot of explanatory power about the world. Since it’s an introductory-level class, ECON 155 is the first venture into the discipline for many students. Each class period, Prof. Jessica Holmes (a truly great teacher–and I run into her at the pool sometimes, too!) leads us through a lot of “Aha!” moments and does a great job of helping the class connect basic theory with how the world works. Students’ intellectual excitement is tangible, as many already foresee their futures in business, and others, like me, plan to use econ in the international policy sphere.

Learning moments. Not to say that I’m categorically smarter than first-years, but, fact of the matter is, I do have all but one credit that I need in order to claim a B.A. from Middlebury, and for, say, the new Febs in the class, they’re just getting started. Collaborating on problem sets with underclassmen, I get to contribute the critical thinking and communication skills I’ve been working on these four years, and my younger study partners contribute their perspectives and curiosities that help everyone learn more.

So, although at times, I might feel antiquated, grandfather-y, and generally out of the hip-and-new-up-and-coming-pop-culture loop in my last-semester 101 (who’s this Justin Bieber character..?), being relatively old doesn’t mean I still can’t do some of the academic heavy lifting. Just ask this dude:

Man lifting weights

Senior Project-Studio Art

Since the fall I have been working hard preparing for my Senior show, in May, which will be culmination of my Studio Art career here at Middlebury.  Its been quite the experience.  I spent a lot of fall semester with “painter’s block”.  Most people are more acquainted with “writer’s block” but both are equally frustrating especially when faced with deadlines.  However, my professors were amazing.  Just as friends comfort a friend who is stuck or feeling like they’ve lost their talent, the art department continued to lift my spirits and told me to keep pushing through.  “Soon, I would find my groove” they assured.  Finally, I got out of the rut during J-term and am in full swing.  Man I feel good.

Let me tell you, nothing feels better than whipping out a painting with ease and satisfaction.  My main focus had been graffiti which has shifted somewhat to compositions that focus on graphic art and lots of bold color–one of the two characteristics of graffiti I’m most drawn to.

This is just the beginning and I am excited to see else I come up with.  I also cannot wait for the rest of the seniors final shows as well.  We have all been working so hard and are all like a little family, living in Johnson together in our studios.

I was also asked to do a mural in Stewart Hall for Brainerd Commons.  Crossing my fingers that project will begin soon too!  Last year I worked with four other students to make a mural in Proctor Dining hall.  Here’s the section I worked on…

This is the first mural to go up in a public place created solely by students.  I, along with the rest of the art community hope that this mural is just the beginning of more student art around campus.  Let the creative juices flow!

Viva el arte!

Becky

Already Nostalgic

The reality of time hit when we returned for our final semester at Middlebury after February break.

I spent my break with eight wonderful friends from Middlebury, on a road trip from here to Savannah, Georgia. Six of those eight friends had just graduated as Febs, and the other two and I flew back to campus for the spring semester while the graduates continued the adventure and drove to San Francisco, California.

Watching the Febs graduate and then returning to campus without them made me truly acknowledge that this is our last semester. In the first week, my friends and I threw a potluck, went for walks, and talked about everything we want to make sure to do before we leave the utopia that is Middlebury College. Sure, there are stresses here at times, and yes, not everything is always perfect, but it is hard to complain about life here.

So I will use this week’s blog post to list my favorite aspects about this college — both the deeply meaningful and trivially glorious things — that I want to appreciate at all times for the next four months before graduation:

– Professors who take the time to get to know us, and remember our names.

– The beauty of Vermont in all seasons.

– Our amazing dining hall food and friendly staff.

– The beautiful, comfortable, and clean dorms.

– The ability to take courses in completely new areas while still deeply focusing on my major.

– Constantly meeting new and wonderful people who are passionate.

– Dance parties whenever we want.

– Cross country skiing around the golf course or at Bread Loaf.

– Singing with the Mischords (my a cappella group).

– Having someone willing to go on an adventure with me at any time.

– Hiking around Vermont.

– Apple picking in the fall.

– The Middlebury farmer’s market.

– The friendly businesses around town who remember us.

– Good Vermont cheeses.

– Road biking on sunny days.

– Running with friends around the golf course.

– Having amazing speakers and events available to me for free all of the time.

– Fresh air.

– The diversity of interests that my friends have.

– The cool accomplishments that people have made.

– The potential to get on board with a project anytime.

– Free dance and yoga classes.

– Subsidized music lessons.

– Hanging out on the lawn with friends in the spring.

– Learning a new language with an enthusiastic professor who is a native speaker of that language.

– Making brunch with friends on the weekends.

– Themes parties for no good reason other than to have a theme.

– The variety of activities that I get to participate in every day.