“What’s Next?”

Recently, I’ve been getting the same question seemingly wherever I turn. And it’s not just the same question—many times, it’s the same phrase, and I’ve taken a liking to how it’s worded. Professors, friends, and colleagues have been asking me, “What’s next?”

Although it’s a question that I know is causing some stress for a few of my peers, I like the way it’s phrased. “What’s next,” after all, means that what I did here at Middlebury is connected to what’s ahead. In this regard, Middlebury has done a great job of preparing me for whatever lies ahead.

When I was a first-year, I remember being surprised that the Center for Careers and Internships (CCI) was open to underclassmen. I soon learned about the tremendous resources within the CCI that Middlebury students have at our disposal. Only a couple weeks of college under my belt and, thanks to the CCI, I was able to have a counselor look over my resume and discuss job and internship prospects for the summer. I also remember being thrilled by how one could simply drop into the office without an appointment and there would be staff members on hand. In my many trips to the CCI since my first year, counselors have assisted me with planning a course load, scheduling my time abroad, and evaluating potential work opportunities.

The advantages for Middlebury students don’t end at the CCI’s doorway. A comprehensive network of Middlebury alumni are ready and willing to dispense advice and to help Middlebury students get a foot in the door during the job search. Middlebury alumni will often post opportunities on the online network of Middlebury jobs and internships, MOJO. It was there that I saw an internship opportunity to work for the White House, and I jumped at it. It was an incredible experience that I will always remember, and I owe a ton to Middlebury. After my summer working for the President, I’m always encouraging students to use the CCI and MOJO—you never know what opportunities are out there.

The CCI doesn’t just provide advice and connections, either: they also help fund unpaid internships for students. The CCI distributes approximately $450,000 to several hundred students every spring, and it’s available to all class years (not just sophomores or juniors) to fund an internship or summer project. The funding I received from the CCI my sophomore year was instrumental in helping me cover the costs of living in a city as expensive as Washington, D.C.

I was talking recently about life after Middlebury with several friends who have graduated. Even though they are just a few months or years out of school, they are already doing some incredible things. One is working for a national newspaper on the west coast, another is traveling in Southeast Asia, and a third is teaching.

I’m not sure what’s next for me, currently. I’ve submitted a couple applications to various opportunities but in the meantime, I’m keeping busy with the newspaper and enjoying this last semester of classes!

Music @ MIDD!

This past week revealed that our spring Concert  will headline T- Pain! It is so exciting for my final spring concert to come rolling around as MCAB does an amazing job at organizing live music shows throughout the school year. Normally during the academic school year there are two major concerts put up by MCAB’s Concerts Committee in both the fall and spring semesters. The talent that the school brings really ranges in interests and performers and it is not only MCAB that does a great job at getting live concerts to campus. Organizations such as WRMC, Middlebury Musicians United, Commons, and many more are able to pull artists from around the nation to come to our campus. Here is the breakdown of major live concerts that I’ve been able to attend organized by students:

Freshman:  Wale, Dead Prez, Guster

Sophomore:  Miniature Tigers, fun., Timeflies , Rubblebucket

Junior: Chance the Rapper, Matt & Kim

Senior: Cloud Nothing, Vacationers, Mr. Wives (coming up), T-Pain

Some of my most memorable experiences have been at these concerts. It’s a fantastic way to blow off steam while  relishing in music that feels as familiar as when you put on earbuds and also being exposed to completely new genres.  That is not to say that the music scene ends on campus. I have been able to go to concerts in both Montreal and Burlington, where a wide variety of artists frequent these beautiful cities. It’s not uncommon to grab a meal and concert on a given weekend.

Music on campus is something that people enjoy and connect over together, whether it is sharing a new Spotify playlist to listen to over your Atwater breakfast or plugging the aux cord in and blasting some tunes to groove to.

Spring is Coming.

I’m not going to lie to you–it’s been a cold winter. For the month of January, the temperatures did not even think about reaching above freezing. This winter, I have established a meticulous bundling routine that ensures maximum warmth: long, warm socks, Bean boots, puffy jacket, thick mittens, and a lavender circle scarf that covers me from clavicle to nose. With hair down past my shoulder blades, I have strategized about the best time to wash it in relation to when I was leaving the house and how long I would be walking so as to avoid it freezing in large chunks.

And as I am sitting here writing this, I know that so many other places in the United States have been hit with a much more brutal winter. My friend from Boston told me her parents have snow up above their windows at home. Even down south, they have been experiencing chilly weather.

But regardless of what kind of winter you’ve had, everyone rejoices over the beginnings of spring.

Now, I don’t want to jinx it, but there is maybe a possibility that the thaw is beginning here at Middlebury. Just maybe, I write, in an effort to appease the winter gods for I do not wish to enrage them in with insolence. But for the last few days, we have been graced with a warm, radiant sun and our mountains of snow are slowly trickling away. Abandoning my circle scarf, I have walked with an upturned face, hoping to swallow as much Vitamin D as I can. I have even found an extra bounce in my step as I walk from classes to meetings to meals, as if the sun helps propel me through my day.

While winter on this campus renders Middlebury an absolute dream, the emergence of spring is irresistible. And I don’t know if we are there quite yet, but I look forward to a campus that has embraced spring. The Adirondack chairs return to Battell Beach, tables grace the outside patios of the dining halls, and students lounge between classes on whatever grassy patch they can find.

In addition to the weather, the spring always provides a jam-packed social schedule. Concerts, roller rinks, food festivals. As the sun returns from hibernation, the students follow suit.

While I am sure the snow gods will repay this post with another snow storm, the thought that spring is within reach puts a smile on my face.

A Night of Arab Culture

Fattoush salad from Lebanon, Moussaqa from Egypt, and chicken bastilla from Morocco. This is only a preview of  what was on the menu at the Arabesque cultural dinner at the Arabic House on Wednesday night. Over 50 Arabic students, faculty, and their friends took a break from the normal dining hall food and came together for this unique home-cooked meal. As co-President of Arabesque: The Arab Heritage Club, I helped organize a night of Arab culture via cuisine ranging from all over the Arab world. Although I am not Arab myself, I have developed a deep appreciation for the richness and diversity of Arab cultures throughout my time at Middlebury — so much so that I decided to pursue a leadership role in this cultural organization!

Now, I am not very gifted at cooking, so preparing a dinner for over 50 people was not a small feat by any means. Luckily, I had the help of the other Arabesque president, Mohamed Hussein, a native of Cairo, Egypt, who had been Head Chef at Dolci, an entirely student run fine dining restaurant experience that occurs every Friday at Atwater Dining Hall. Mohamed has extensive experience cooking from home, is much better at following instructions on recipes online and experimentation with ingredients. Needless to say, his expertise made for an great gastronomical experience for those who attended the dinner.

Our dinner guests started arriving at 7:00 PM. We made the final touches to our dishes to make them aesthetically pleasing and added some ambient music by Oum Kalthoum and Fairouz, legendary classical Egyptian and Lebanese singers respectively, to set the mood. Gradually people poured in and enjoyed trying out a diverse set of cuisine from all over the Middle East and North Africa. It was very gratifying to watch our guests enjoy the delicious food we prepared and come together to engage in conversation on everything from the politics of the Middle East, a recent lecture they attended, their experience (or lack thereof) in Arabic and make new friendships. Although the Arabesque event dinner was quite labor intensive and demanding of my free time, it was great to kick off the spring semester with a bang and be responsible for such a well attended cultural event.

Oftentimes, it can be easy for people to focus so much on the volatile political situation of the Middle East and North Africa and oversee the human side of the people who live there. While politics undoubtedly shape people’s lives in the Middle East, there are also beautiful Arab cultures that should be acknowledged and celebrated in this complex environment.

Art, Art, and More Art

Last summer, I had the fortune of working in the Middlebury College Museum of Art as a full-time curatorial intern, alongside the Chief Curator of the Museum, Emmie Donadio. During my time at the museum, my main project was to help Emmie assemble two upcoming exhibitions, one on a number of Andy Warhol prints and the second on  street artists. Despite not having had a lot of exposure to contemporary art prior to last year, or perhaps because of it, working on these two exhibitions was an exciting and rewarding task that allowed me to see the nitty-gritty that goes on behind the scenes in a museum setting.

Now, more than five months later, both these exhibitions are on display at the College Museum. The first, containing 10 Andy Warhol prints gifted to the College by the artist’s foundation last spring, opened in the first week of January. Ranging in subject matter from his famed Campbell’s Soup Can to a flamboyantly coloured Mao to Queen Ntombi of Swaziland, this eclectic collection of uneditioned proofs are now a part of the College’s permanent collection. As an artist, Warhol is one of the most renowned household names in America, with one of the most prolific oeuvres of any artist in the 20th century. As such, doing research on Warhol was like staring into a bottomless pit of unanswerable questions. Scholars and commentators have studied and written on just about every facet of Warhol’s life and his art. Synthesizing all that information was one of the most challenging experiences of my summer. In the end, I distilled the information I researched into short and sweet wall labels, which tell viewers the significance of each work. Since the Warhol Foundation donated countless gifts to many educational institutions in recent years, 2015 is an especially busy year for Warhol exhibitions around the country.

The second exhibition that I worked on was “Outside In: Art from the Street”, mostly in its preliminary research. The exhibition, which takes up most of the upper floor of the museum, contains an incredible array of contemporary urban artists from around the world, including some of the biggest names in street and graffiti art today: Banksy, JR, Swoon, and Bäst. Nevertheless, these are street artists, and prints can only tell you so much about their talent and creativity. As such, the museum hired British street artist Ben Eine, whose work British Prime Minister Cameron gifted to President Obama in 2011 during a visit to the U.S., to paint a wall for the exhibition. To bring in an even more authentic taste of the street, a co-curator of the exhibition even went down to New York City to bring back the remains of an actual graffiti wall from the studio of the artist-team Faile.

With some of the biggest names of contemporary art right here on campus, it is indeed high time for art here at Middlebury. If you find yourself around town, be sure to check out both these exhibitions, which will be on view until Sunday, April 19.

Laundry and Waxing Poetic

Last night, I did my laundry. Laundry is one of those tasks that always takes me longer than I anticipate—I find folding especially challenging—and I always kind of resent it. Last night, however, I felt suddenly struck by the significance of the activity. There I stood, sorting my socks from my jeans in the basement of a dorm, chatting with a friend about laundry detergent. After putting my laundry in, I walked down the hall to sit down and read before heading up the hill to dinner with friends.

I suddenly realized the smallness of my radius of movement. It was absolutely miniscule. From a bird’s eye view, my days would look like laps from dining halls to classrooms to libraries. They would look like I was spinning in circles. I had never noticed that before because I had never actually felt bored. Well, in truth because I never have been bored.

Some might look at this situation—my small radius of movement—and find it stifling, and I think I would have agreed with them before this experience. But living in it, I so appreciate the tight-knit community of Middlebury. My change of heart stems from the realization that this is not just a close community; it’s brimming with resources and new experiences. Sometimes, I feel as if I am peeling back layers of potential—discovering rooms I did not know existed and people I have never met. Middlebury feels simultaneously supportive and expansive, as if despite my extreme comfort here, I could keep discovering new things. This sensation of never-ending newness comes from the energy of the people who comprise this community. Certainly, Middlebury does not constantly keep hiding new rooms or strangers around campus. Rather, students, staff, and professors bring exciting new ideas to campus. Whether it’s a new club, class, or a new way to use a space, innovation renews Middlebury everyday.

I probably will always dislike laundry, but Middlebury sure is a great place to do it.

Winter Hiking

As a south-Floridian, I don’t really define myself as a “winter person.” I really like the heat, the sunshine, the rain, and the comfort of sandals. Being raised in a place of constant summer meant major adjustments were to be made during the long winters at Middlebury. I had to buy socks that covered my ankles and were as thick as my pinky finger; I had to learn to walk on icy sidewalks; and I had to find the joys and comforts of that once foreign season that would define about half of each academic year. I had to find that “invincible summer” within the cold, beautiful winter in the mountains.

Last year I thought the best way to do this was to simply get outside. My friend Emma and I ran to a local mountain (Snake Mountain), did a 2mile sunrise hike, and ran/hitch-hiked back.* It was quite the adventure and oodles of fun. But for some reason, I didn’t go for another hike until Spring. With that in mind and my relatively indoor-driven J-term, I decided to revive my winter adventuress within me: I signed up for a Middlebury Mountain Club (MMC) sunrise hike.

MMC hosts tons of different outdoor opportunities throughout the semesters. You can go kayaking, rock-climbing ice-climbing, camping, winter-camping, sunrise-hiking, hiking, etc. Most trips are free and entirely funded by the club. Because of that, students sign up for trips on an individual basis. So you never know who could be on your next trip! It’s a great way to get outdoors and meet some new friends.

I signed up for a winter-sunrise-hike of Mount Philo this past week. at 5:00am I showed up to Adirondack Circle to meet eight bright-eyed and bushy tailed students who were as crazy as me to go hiking in 15 degree weather. Kent and Parker were the trip leaders, trained Mountain Club guides who ensured that I would be taken care of if I froze from hypothermia. Kent also provided micro-spikes for all of us newbies who didn’t own our own pair. (If you are now thinking you are a newbie based on your lack of knowledge of micro-spikes, micro-spikes go over your shoes so that you have better traction and grip while hiking in the snow. They are great.)

After a twenty minute drive and a mild hike to the top, we saw an awesome view of the awakening neighboring towns:
Mt. Philo
…but no sun. Turns out Mt. Philo faces West and the clouds were too thick for any westward reflection. Regardless, it was a great way to kick of the first Thursday of Spring semester!  And the group of us wants to go back for a sunset hike this spring.

 

*A great story of friendship between Middlebury students and two local high-schoolers. Snake

“What did you do over your Febmester?”

It’s that most splendid time of year again…THE FEBS ARE HERE! What’s a Feb you may ask? Well, here’s a link for some of the logistics: http://www.middlebury.edu/admissions/apply/february but to really know the Feb program, you need to know the Febmester. Currently at the forefront of everyone’s minds—Feb and Reg (September admission) alike—is that age old question: “What did you do over your Febmester?”

Each Feb is given the incredible opportunity to take a Febmester, which is like a gap year but only eight months in length. The best part of the Febmester? What you decided to spend your eight months doing is entirely up to you. It’s a chance for you go somewhere or learn something you had always wanted to but couldn’t find the time for in high school. It’s a chance for you to learn a new language in a foreign country, hike a trail that challenges every part of your mental and physical endurance, or reconnect with family that fell to the side when SAT prep, band rehearsal, and soccer practice reigned supreme. It’s a chance to take something you’ve always found interesting and turn it into your greatest passion or discover something you never thought of trying before. For me, the Febmester was the perfect time to get my first job and learn how to play the guitar on the side. I had never had time for a job before, and I really wanted to enter Middlebury having had that particular kind of responsibility.

And what is ultimately most wonderful about the Febmester is the stories you bring with you to campus in February. By the time February comes, Febs are so excited to finally be at Middlebury, they want to learn everything about each other. Febmester stories are not only a great way to break the ice during orientation, but they’re also a way for you to tell people what you love to do, who you are when you’re not at school. It’s amazing how the Febmester stories simultaneously make every single one of us unique and bring us all together to unify the class. I have many friends who spent their Febmesters hiking long, involved trails, and those who hiked in Spain have a lot to share with those who hiked in the US. Those who went abroad to Italy have a lot to talk about with those who went abroad to South Africa, because even though the cultures are hugely different, the experience of being in a strange country with new food, new customs, and, often, a new language builds friendships that last not only your four Middlebury years, but also far beyond graduation.

There are countless perks of being a Feb, but the Febmester—both the experience and the way it aids in your transition to Middlebury—is by far one of the most special pieces of Feb life.

J-Term as an Arabic Translator in Japan

Now that J-Term has sadly coming to an end, I have time to sit down and reflect upon the extraordinary experience I had this month. As you can tell from the title of this post, I spent this J-Term taking a course that allowed me to participate in the English to Arabic translation of an informational brochure to generate tourism for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. The Director of the Middlebury School in Japan, Sanae Eda was contacted by an official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) who was familiar with Middlebury’s strength in foreign language instruction and wanted to include students interested in translation this unique pilot program. As an added bonus, METI was willing to cover a week-long all expenses paid trip to Tokyo for the participants of the class. Eda sensei worked with faculty at Middlebury to extend this unique opportunity to Middlebury students to do during J-Term. When I found out about the class, I immediately sent out an e-mail to the instructor and received a letter of acceptance a couple weeks after. The course consisted of 8 Middlebury College students and 4 Middlebury Institute students translating from English into Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Russian.

Middlebury Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Russian translators gathered together with Sanae Eda, director of the Middlebury School in Japan, at the National Olympic Memorial Youth Center.

The course began with a week of training on the imperfect art of translation, which included us familiarized ourselves with translation theories, debates on translation fidelity versus freedom, and diving right into translating out first batch of text. During our second week, we flew out to Tokyo to meet with the METI program coordinators, learn more about approaches to translation, and see the sights mentioned in the text in person. The third week was mostly spent balancing my time recovering from the 14 hour jet lag and translating with my language partner into the late hours of the night. Suddenly, it was the last week of J-Term and we translated over 5,000 words into Arabic!

I spent most of my afternoons sightseeing and scavenger hunting through different neighborhoods of the Shinjuku and Shibuya wards in central Tokyo. Here I am standing on the main square of the Meiji Jingu Shrine, which houses the spirit of Emperor Meiji.

In this whirlwind of a month, I visited a part of the world I never imagined myself seeing otherwise, made new friendships, and exponentially improved my written Arabic through the patient guidance of my native-speaker language partner, Mohamed Hussein from Egypt. Having entered Middlebury three and half years ago knowing absolutely no Arabic, I am astounded at how I was able to learn so much at this small liberal arts school in rural Vermont and translate for the Olympics in Tokyo. I think my experiences just go to show the how unpredictable your path can be at Middlebury, especially when you do what you are passionate about and love!

Reminiscing About a Trip to Turkey

Almost exactly one year ago, I left the idyllic New England town of Middlebury, Vermont in order to board a plane to Istanbul – a sprawling metropolis of 14 million people and millennia of history. Because of this one-year anniversary, this week I was filled with nostalgia for my time in Turkey. My reminiscing also had a lot to do with my thesis: over the fall semester and during J-term, I was writing my History thesis on the Ottoman Empire’s relationship with Britain in the 1870s. After the triumphant moment turning in the thesis (professionally bound with a sharp-looking title page, thanks to the great staff at the Reprographics office), I kept thinking about how the academic journey of the past five months was largely the result of my decision to study abroad and to go outside my comfort zone.

A view of the Golden Horn in Istanbul, the peninsula filled with historic sites like the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.

A view of the Golden Horn in Istanbul, the peninsula filled with historic sites like the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.

It is fitting that my journey studying Turkey ends (for now) in J-term, because that is where it all began. During my sophomore year, I took a J-term course called Euro-Atlantic Relations. Taught by a veteran Middlebury Winter Term instructor, the course was a 360-degree look at NATO and the state of the alliance between the United States and Europe. As a part of the course and with the excellent advising of Stan Sloan, the instructor, I undertook a research project into Turkey’s relationship with the European Union.   Inspired by the research, I signed up to study abroad in Istanbul.

It was a risk in many ways – I didn’t speak Turkish, had never been to Turkey before, and was worried about giving up opportunities for involvement on campus in the spring semester, particularly given my responsibilities as an editor of the newspaper. However, looking back, I am so happy that I made the decision and am always advocating study abroad to other Middlebury students who are weighing similar trade-offs.

It’s tough to concisely describe how much I learned in Istanbul. There was the immense amount I learned in courses on Turkish history and politics at Boğaziçi University – knowledge that I relied on time and time again while writing my thesis. I also experienced a great deal of personal growth. I had never lived in a city bigger than Appleton, Wisconsin for any considerable length of time, and learning to navigate Istanbul, while a challenge at first, had huge rewards. I now feel like I can survive and thrive in a new environment, no matter how big the learning curve in terms of language or culture.

I’m hoping to return to Turkey after I graduate this spring. My journey there and back again is an example of how experiences at Middlebury can change you in unexpected and exciting ways. Had I not taken the Euro-Atlantic relations course, I might be remising today about totally different but equally rewarding memories.