The North Face company got it right: never stop exploring. But it doesn’t always have to involve the wilderness, which in Vermont can get pretty aggressive around this wintery time of year. No, the exploring I’m talking about happens in the Middlebury classroom. We are constantly being encouraged to take classes that force us to work outside of our comfort zones. Our advisors tell us to do this, our friends tell us to do this, our professors tell us to do this, even our graduation requirements tell us to do this (and we definitely want to listen to those), but what we really need is to actually do it. In order to receive my diploma at the end of my four years, I know I need to fulfill seven of our eight distribution requirements and all four of our cultural requirements, and I have done so. I took Germany in the 19th Century because I needed a history class, I took Funerary Arts of East Asia as my AAL (Asia, Africa, Latin America), and I took Epic Greek and Roman Poetry to fulfill my philosophy requirement, but did that all just kind of defeat the point? Sure, I know I feel as though I am a more well-rounded student for having taken those classes, and I learned a lot about other cultures I never could have learned in my majors or minor, but was I truly pushing myself outside of my comfort zone if I was being told I had to fulfill these requirements? Maybe. But maybe not.
I am grateful Middlebury has asked me to fulfill a myriad of courses outside of my typical schedule, but what I was missing, what Middlebury could not provide for me, was a class I took entirely by my own coercion. In my first three years, I never took a class about which I had to fight with myself. This semester, that changed, however. I took a class that did not fulfill any major or minor, distribution, or cultural requirements. No one told me to take this class; I just took it. The class is called Writing for Children, and, I will admit, it is taught by my advisor, who is one of my favorite professors on campus. Doesn’t sound too scary, right? What am I talking about going outside of my comfort zone? This is a 100 level course in my department of study taught by someone with whom I have a close relationship. Well, it’s not all quite so easy. The catch: this is a creative writing course. While I am passionate about the subject of this course–which is familiar to me–I am absolutely terrified of expressing creativity, especially creativity in the form of the written word. The idea of crafting a piece with my mind and my heart only to have it put on display and torn apart by my peers is not something I find enjoyable. The ideas of the class: totally up my alley. The application of the material: heavens no!
What I have found is that, even though each time I write a piece for workshop my chest closes up a bit in sheer horror, I also get really excited. This is new. This is unfamiliar. This is really fun. I had always been too afraid of the criticism to take a creative writing class at Middlebury, but as a student in this class I have grown to appreciate others’ opinions not as judgement but as helpful suggestions and a mutual appreciation of the difficulty of this process. The workshop environment is one in which I have never found myself, and it is one I always assumed I would loathe. It turns out, there is a great deal I can learn when I force myself to do something terrifying. This class has proven to be one of the most enjoyable and self-realizing classes I have had the pleasure to take at Middlebury. Doing something that seems emotionally impossible is in every way beneficial.
You might think senior year is the year in which you finally get to just relax in your major, but I’ve found it’s exactly the right time to never stop exploring.