Tag Archives: study abroad

Out of nostalgia

I remember this particular season, precisely one year ago. I was lost in a brand new  city and my friends and I wanted to embark on every adventure we could possibly encounter. As “Erasmus” students, international students in other words, who insisted on photographing every statue and dinner entree as part of their obligatory “study abroad photo album” that would later be posted on Facebook, our curiosities were destined to kill our cats as we set out to explore as much of Madrid as we physically and mentally could.

I could say I had some of the best times of my life during my time abroad, which actually felt like a 5 month long vacation. My eyes were open to extreme spectrums of culture as I learned to live and study alongside Spaniards. Discovering an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet that served sushi on conveyer belts (pure genius– I’d love to shake his/her hand), finding cute dance partners at El Kapital, the incredible 7 story discoteca that offers different types of music/DJs on every floor, running into familiar faces at Retiro Park, discussing ancient Greek comedy over delicious tapas and bottomless pitchers of sangria with my Spanish classmates—- are all fond memories that  I will hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life.

That incredible semester abroad was a trade-off of what could’ve been an equally fabulous semester here at Midd.  But honestly, I had forgotten how mind-blowingly beautiful this campus is during foliage season! Being here during this time of the year is spectacular as the leaves turn all shades of red, orange, and yellow, and I can’t help but to fall in love with this place for the millionth time whenever I get a glimpse of the Green Mountains on the way to Bi-Hall or as I watch the sunset from the convenience of my seat at Ross dining hall.

I realize I will reach my expiration date here at Middlebury within a few months. (I mean, our 200 Days party is coming up!) For this reason, I intend to fully take advantage of everything that this fall season has to offer whether it be visiting the nearest alpaca farm, picking raspberries, or playing in the leaves like the 7-year-old child I am. At heart.

**WARNING: You may start comparing your friends’ faces to alpacas if you stare at these pictures too long.

How Zach got his groove back

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.

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.



The Beginning of the End

So perhaps this is going to sound overdramatic and sentimental,  but kids we’ve reached the beginning of the end.  Back on campus for my last semester at Middlebury, my mind constantly wonders back to the beginnnings of my inklings that Middlebury was even a place that I was interested in making a part of my life.

This time, four years ago, I was a sitting duck.  Second semester senoritis – Relax, but do not slack off! – was setting in and translating my early decision acceptance to a life.  I was in love with Middlebury, but not having started here yet, I couldn’t even begin to fathom the eclectic experiences that I would have here.  The number of days that I was extremely excited by coming to Middlebury were tempered with days when I grew terrified that sitting in the middle-of-nowhere Vermont I would follow a very linear path that would lead me to an English major and a publishing career.  Both are perfectly valid choices – I’m still pursuing a minor in English and jobs in the literary world – but the point is that I was terriffied about feeling stuck here, but my time at Middlebury has been the least stuck that I’ve felt in my life.  There were other days that I worried that I would just not be cooky enough for this place that gets stereotyped as only flannel and granola, but Middlebury is what you make of it and you will be what you let it make you.

The greatest gift that Middlebury has given me has been freedom from the feeling that I always need to have my next move pre-planned and fit into some larger life plan.  I still overthink things sometimes, but Middlebury has been a time when I’ve been able to just go with whatever came my way.  Four years ago I would never have imagined that Middlebury would lead me to Costa Rica to teach English for a J-term, to Germany or Argentina for research and a semester abroad respectively, or to logrolling or joining a social house on campus.  How could I have known that I would try rugby or take a class about the state of Islamic women in Germany?  How could I know that I would get an opportunity to do publicity for a restaurant in town?  How would I know that my friends would hail from far and near from California to Hong Kong?  And that the options for next year would range from Boston to Thailand?

I chose Middlebury because it intrigued me.  I chose the school that I would most regret not attending.  At times, Middlebury scared me, but somewhere in the fear of getting stuck I got this glimpse that maybe Middlebury would mold me into something I’d never imagined before and as I begin to reach the end of that road, I can’t imagine it any other way.

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:

Language Tables

Sorry to bombard you guys with a second email about food at Middlebury (I am currently 2 for 2), but Middlebury College has  so many unique dining options that I could probably write 100 (or more )blog posts just about dining at Middlebury.  As I mentioned in my last post, we have two main dining halls, Ross and Proctor, but we also have a third dining hall, Atwater.  Atwater used to be a full service dining hall like Ross and Proctor, but now hosts language tables.  What are language tables you may ask?  I will attempt to explain…

                Imagine entering a room and hearing 9 languages being spoken at once.  The table in the far left corner is speaking Japanese, the table in the back right is speaking Italian, and right in front of you eight students are speaking Arabic.  No, you are not at the United Nations, you are at language tables at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont.  As part of Middlebury’s extensive language program, students have the opportunity (and will sometimes be required) to attend language tables once or twice a week.  Let’s say that you take Italian.  You will come to language tables and have a sit down meal with seven or eight other Italian students of all different levels.  Chances are an Italian professor will join you as well and if not, a native Italian speaker will join you at the table.  Your waiter or waitress will also be either a native Italian speaker or an upper level Italian student.  You eat with this group for about and hour, speaking only in Italian.

                At first this experience is somewhat difficult.  During the first couple of weeks (especially if you are just beginning a language) it is hard to communicate with your peers.  There are only so many times you can smile at the person next to you and say “Hi.  I am Ben.  I like food.”  Don’t worry though, over time your speaking skills improve and it is really amazing to see and hear the difference at language tables after a month or two.  People who just a few weeks earlier were struggling with the simple task of introducing themselves are now speaking rapidly in complex sentences. 

After two years of studying a language at Middlebury and maybe a summer at our summer Language Schools, students are prepared to study abroad in an immersion environment.  Middlebury Students take classes in a foreign University with local students and they succeed!  Studying a language at Middlebury is hard work, but the hard work definitely pays off.