Zeke Caceres ’15


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Hometown: Bronx, NY

High School: The Beacon School in New York, NY

Major: International and Global Studies: Middle East (Arabic) – Political Science

E-mail: ecaceres@middlebury.edu

Activities: SGA-Institutional Diversity Committee (IDC), JusTalks, Justice for Palestine (JFP), Alianza: Hispanic Heritage Club, Middlebury Mountain Club (MMC), Middlebury Open Queer Alliance (MOQA)

Study Abroad: Academic Year: Amman, Jordan with CV Starr-Middlebury Schools Abroad

Why did you choose Middlebury?

I attended the Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy (MMLA) at Oberlin College four-week intensive French language program the summer between my junior and senior year in high school. After participating in a school-facilitated student exchange program to Paris twice, my enthusiasm for learning French grew significantly and I knew MMLA would give me the opportunity to progress in my language abilities. Truthfully, another incentive for me pursuing MMLA was that Oberlin was my first choice school at the time. Middlebury had come onto my radar, but I never really had my sights set on it. However, MMLA introduced me to current Middlebury students and alumni working in the staff who told me all about the school and encouraged me to apply. In hindsight, the experience of being in a unique immersive language learning environment alongside a supportive cohort who shared in my enthusiasm for learning foreign languages was ultimately what made me apply Early Decision to Middlebury.

Why/How did you choose your major?

In high school education, I always felt I was being given a very superficial look at the Middle East, if it was discussed at all. When I whimsically decided to take Introduction to International Studies along with Arabic my first semester, I became fascinated by the region. As I educated myself through inspiring courses like Geopolitics of the Middle East and History of the Modern Middle East, I developed a great appreciation for the interdisciplinary approach the International Studies major takes to grappling the myriad of complexities of the Middle East. I became passionate about the issues have troubled the region and wanted to engage with them academically as much as I could, so I declared my major in early October of my sophomore year. As an indecisive liberal arts student, I felt the Middle East Studies major afforded me the valuable opportunity to take classes in a wide range of academic disciplines to provide me with a holistic and multifaceted picture of the Middle East. Also, the Middle East area studies program in the International Studies department is intimate and filled with brilliant faculty and students that have challenged me in ways I would have never imagined.

What was your biggest challenge transitioning into the college atmosphere?

The biggest challenge for me was dealing with the change of setting. Moving from an urban metropolis to a rural small-town was a change I embraced but brought a bunch of unexpected difficulties. That being said, despite the many conveniences that come with living in a city, there is something very special about going to college at a place like Middlebury.

What is your fondest memory of Middlebury thus far?

Meeting writer-in-residence Julia Alvarez! After completing my First-Year Common Reading, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, I had begun to do some research on Trujillo’s dictatorship on the Dominican Republic. In my research, I came across found her award-winning novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, and read it before my annual family visit to the Dominican Republic. On my visit to the museum of the Mirabal Sisters–an influential group of dissentients to the Trujillo regime, I met Dede Mirabal, the last surviving Mirabal sister, at her home in the small village of Ojo de Agua. When I arrived to my first Alianza meeting, I saw all members of the club gathered around Ms. Alvarez, who I soon learned was a writer-in-residence at Middlebury. Being a fan of Ms. Alvarez and learning much about her success as a Dominican-American author, I was immediately starstruck as I saw her chatting with the members of the student organization. After the meeting, I approached her and showed her a photo I had taken with Dede during my visit. As I told her about how much her novel allowed me to reconnect with a part of my ancestral history, she was attentive and delighted to meet a fellow Dominicano on campus.

What is your favorite class you’ve taken here?

My favorite class at Middlebury was Beginning Arabic I with Professor Huda Fakhreddine. Through this introductory course to the Arabic language, I managed to develop a great sense of comfort with a foreign alphabet foreign and the often strange sounds that come along with it. At first, Arabic was the most demanding course I had chosen to take at Middlebury because it was excruciatingly time-consuming. Although, I quickly realized that this course was the push I needed to develop a solid foundation if I truly wanted to continue learning Arabic at Middlebury. I had chosen to take Arabic because I truly believe in Middlebury’s ethos when it comes to foreign language instruction: language acquisition is a necessary means to arriving to a better cultural understanding. With the help of my classmates—some of which, through our countless study sessions together, have become my great friends—I was able to pull through the rigor of the course and come out confident with my basic conversational skills. Also, it has been rewarding to couple my Arabic courses with other coursework in Middle East Studies to learn about the Arab world. It is always great to attend movie nights on Thursdays in the Axinn Center screening room, converse in my limited Arabic over tea, hummus and pita bread at the Language House, then discuss our experiences with our professor the day after.

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I like to listen to classical French and Arabic music (among my favorites are Edith Piaf for the former and Fairouz for the latter) and discover new bands to listen to while I study.

Which Harry Potter character would you be and why?

Ron Weasley. Besides being natural ginger (a Dominican one, at that), I often to find myself “stupified” in overwhelming situations and forget the natural bravery that comes with being true Gryffindor!

You’re taking a cross country road trip: which Middlebury professor would you bring along and why?

Hands down, I would bring Professor Febe Armanios, the Director of Middle Eastern Studies and faculty in the Department of History. After I declared my major, she became my academic advisor and I have spoken to her for hours to receive advice on just about anything–academic and non-academic. An Egyptian native, she is passionate about Middle Eastern affairs, has quirky interests, and is so knowledgeable about everything Middle East and life! She is very down-to-earth and possesses all the qualities any great mentor should have.

One piece of advice you would give prospective students in the admissions process?

I know this may be hard to say right now but try your best to make this experience as enjoyable as possible. The college process will inevitably bring highs and lows but it opens up an unique opportunity for some serious self-reflection. You will undoubtedly feel the pressure that comes along with finding the right institution that best suits your interests and future personal, academic and career goals. However in this process, make sure YOU take complete control of this experience! Think critically about who you are as a person and how you picture yourself engaging with this community. Consider the knowledge, experiences, and talents you can offer as an individual wherever you may be and whether that institution would give you the opportunity to develop personally. Flaunt your assets and–in the words of Rihanna–shine bright like a diamond! In summary, reflect deeply, ask lots of questions, and most importantly have fun.

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