Monthly Archives: October 2011

Size Matters

We’ve all heard it before: size matters – especially when it comes to your college search.  Middlebury markets itself as a small liberal arts and sciences college, but that can leave you wondering “just how small is small?”.  Great question!

I can say with the utmost confidence that 2400 is not the perfect size college for everyone.  However, if you’re thinking about coming to Middlebury, chances are you already know how many students we have and you’re already taking that into consideration.  Even as a Senior, though, I am just now beginning to understand the real size of Middlebury.

First, let’s talk class size.  You know they’re small.  In my experience, they’re usually around 15 people.  This semester, my classes range in size from 6 to 30 students.  This means it’s basically impossible to hide from a professor at Middlebury if you haven’t done  your readings, but it also means that all your professors will know more about you than just your name.  They can recognize your handwriting when you forget to write you name at the top of your homework, know what sports you play, and more often than not will invite the whole class over for dinner at their house sometime during the semester.  The opportunities for discussion are endless, and the small environment makes it a lot easier to talk to your other classmates about homework, philosophies and theories, or what they’ll be up to over the weekend.

Next up, and in my opinion a little harder to gauge, is the size of the student body as a whole.  I worried when I chose to come to Middlebury, that in such a small school I would get tired of seeing the same faces over and over again.  Before going abroad, a lot of my friends complained that Middlebury was too small, too intimate, and that they were ready for a change of scene.  Having just returned from Paris and Beijing, two of the biggest cities in the world, I can tell you that it has been great returning to the quaint setting where I know I’m more than a dot in a blurred and bustling crowd.

But there’s more to it than being happy in a small school.  While I was abroad, I met MiddKids that I never even knew went to Middlebury, let alone took the same language as me and were in my year.  I was also lucky to be overseas with several of my best friends from Middlebury and got to know them even better in a new context.  Coming back from abroad, I’ve continued to meet my new friends’ friends, the kids sitting next to me in my first class in the Religion department, and suitemates of friends I’d known for years.

Frankly, I am shocked at the number of people I didn’t know at Middlebury – about half of my fellow Senior Admissions Fellows included!  Of course, part of it is that many of my old friends graduated and new students arrived while I was abroad, but I’m realizing more and more that while I recognize most of the faces I see on the sidewalks around campus, there are tons of incredible people that I still haven’t had the chance to meet (oh senior moments!).  To me, this is the perfect mix: I feel comfortable with the friends I’ve known for four, or even just one, year(s), but I’m also able to meet new people on a regular basis.  Some kids come from high schools with more students than Middlebury, others from intimate classes of 40, but either way, MiddKids seem content with the balance of familiar and unfamiliar faces here.  Size matters, so definitely think about it, but remember that 2400 incredible people is a lot to squeeze into just four years!

Now it’s time to make the most of my final semesters and spend quality time with friends new and old.

Taking Back the Bank

Granted, $53,420 is a lot to pay for a year anywhere. On my current diet of ramen, coffee, and dried mangoes, that much bank could last me a long, LONG time. Sometimes (rarely… but sometimes) a part of me wants to walk into the student financial services office and ask if it would be possible to trade in my acquired education and skill-set for the comprehensive fee. Given the current state of the economy, these brief musings have actually transformed into fully developed hypotheticals. What if it were possible? What would the process be like? Would I actually be entitled to 50K a year?

The conclusion: possibly. Imagining the process is quite standard. Walk in to the lab, sign a consent form (somehow) approved by the IRB, put on the tech-savvy helmet that connects to your neurons, and watch as the numbers on the dollar sign meter increase as knowledge is drained from your cranium. Happy Halloween.

Yet imagining the rate of compensation is much more fascinating. I’m sure that the education and skill-set I gained at Middlebury adds up to above $200,000. After all, learning happens both inside the classroom and out. The wealth of experience here isn’t quantifiable. Yes, it’s true (and I believe it too). But let’s assume that our knowledge was only worth the yearly comprehensive fee, would it still be equitable to take the 50K? The answer I consistently arrive at is (un)fortunately, no. Why? Well, because Middlebury doles out a lot of $$ to students through a variety of processes in a variety of sectors.

So how to get the muhni? The simple answer is work. There are significant work opportunities both on and off campus. I currently work as a Senior Fellow in the Admissions Office (hence this blog post), a First Year Mentor and Peer Writing Tutor for the CTLR, and as an Overseas Student Correspondent for the South Korean Government (Yes! While at Middlebury!). I also worked as a research assistant to two faculty members – one during the academic year and one during my summer when I was back at home in South Korea. Often times the work I’m engaged in is something I would do just for the experience; getting paid is just a bonus. Moreover, finding these opportunities isn’t difficult: ( The hours add up, and it’s nice to see a fat check in your mailbox every two weeks.

But there are alternate (perhaps, less-known) ways of taking back your tuition. Middlebury has funding for almost everything – provided you look hard enough. My personal favorite is research grants. Last summer, I received a $4000 research grant to conduct my senior thesis research in Seoul. It covered travel, accommodation, food, and research expenses. I also received funding to attend an academic conference in Las Vegas to present some of my original work. In addition to these opportunities, Middlebury has money for starting community initiatives, founding student organizations, and even funding to offset the cost of unpaid summer/winter internships.

There is money if you look. Taking back some of your tuition doesn’t have to be as drastic as the Halloween cranium drain. It’s nice to take a break from the work and look for people/ways that will give you money to do something you’re interested in. More often than not, you’ll find one. All right, back to the search: go/fellowships. If only I could convince one of the departments to hire me on a postbacc…

Unlike Mastercard, College has a Pricetag

One of the hardest things about college for me has been affording it. Coming to Middlebury has been a dream, but I know my forefathers and future progeny already feel the strain. (You laugh, they cry.) Debt is a real thing that many at Middlebury have to luxury to overlook.  Experts all say College debt is GOOD DEBT, yet I say COLLEGE DEBT, is STRESSFUL DEBT until you pay it off in your thirties or forties only to accrue more debt when your children begin their higher education journeys. (Simply thinking about it makes me head spin.) Yet, my parents have told me from day one, “we will pay for you to get the highest degree in your desired field because your education is something that no one can take away.” My grey hairs on the other hand, well those are simply small battle wounds.

Coming to college was an eye opening economic experience. In high school, I was quite frankly oblivious to the financial dedication my parents had to my prowess as a student. My awakening started when I got my first Middlebury tuition bill.  My mother held her heart (I believe college bills may have caused her to develop an arrhythmia) and dad said “If that’s where you want to go, we will make the necessary sacrifices.” I was giddy, but I had no idea what the word sacrifice truly meant. It means refinancing the house, it means removing investments, it means dipping into life savings, it means taking on more hours at work and never complaining. When I came to Middlebury, my first mission was to solidify a job. I was so determined, I solidified two.

In October of my freshman year I began receiving bills for minimum payment on my loan. Now mind you this is not to pay back my loan, this is simply trying to tackle the TAXES on my loan. The way the government sees it, if I make minimum payments for the rest of my young adult years, I will be paying them for at least 20 years. Not to mention I will not actually begin paying off my loan until 2016, 4 years after I graduate. When realities like this began to set in, my stress levels rose. Bills are one thing, but in high school you have everything you need right at home: food, clothes, toiletries, school supplies, the family checkbook, are all at arm’s reach. I have always been economical and never really desired many material items (I wore a uniform for basically my whole life).  So coming to college was eye opening on just how much living on your own costs. Let’s just give a basic Mastercard example. Buying a ticket home $200

Paying for the monopoly kingpin: Midd-Transit $110 each way, (if you are alone or they just happen to forget you in the airport. -_- )

Checking in luggage, first bag with Jet- blue is FREE (Thank God for small mercies.)

Getting home on the MTA (which has jacked up its prices, so we will say) $7.

Filling up your parent’s car with gas because you desire you use it. $50+…and the list goes on.

Not to mention you have not even left campus for a solid 24 hours yet. In one day alone that is roughly $360 of your hard earned money gone. Money that you never thought twice about because *coughyouhadastudentmetrocardcough* and quite frankly day-to-day costs were not salient before.


(Unlike Mastercard, nothing here is priceless. Except maybe the look on your face when check your bank statement.)

Being a student worker has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my collegiate experience. I have a strong sense of autonomy and I have become much more financially independent from my parents. Although the hours can be taxing and the ultimate sacrifice is sleep, reduced social, personal time, vision (the list goes on, but I digress.) I have truly been afforded the ability to see that the real world is not all about nightly highlighter wars with your sheets, but interpersonal skills that cannot be mastered sitting in a classroom.

Sweet as maple syrup

An admissions counselor once asked me what separates Middlebury from similar small liberal arts colleges.

Well, Middlebury is in Vermont, and as such we have come to expect extremely high standards of maple syrup and other maple-based products. Next question, please.

The level of reverence given to the mighty maple could seem silly to those uninitiated in the sugar-happy way of life, but maple products make up a significant portion of Vermont’s economy-over $30 million per year! Passing off sub-par, adulterated products has always been looked down upon by Vermont natives, but Vermont’s senators are hoping to take things one step further and make false advertising of supposedly “maple” products a felony. I’d be all for the new law, as maple sugaring, the process of collecting maple sap and boiling it (and boiling it and boiling it and boiling it…) to make syrup takes a lot of work. As part of my environmental chemistry research with Professor Costanza-Robinson, I’ve had the chance to spend many brisk spring afternoons collecting samples of maple sap, and I’ve even tried making my own syrup with some of the leftover sap.

Maple sugaring season happens in early-to-mid spring when temperatures dip below freezing at night but are above freezing during the day. This change in temperature keeps large amounts of sap flowing into either the traditional buckets hung from trees or into the plastic vacuum lines used by large scale (several thousand tree) operations. Molly’s lab is examining the relationship between soil characteristics, mineral content in sap, and syrup flavor compounds and has been analyzing the sap from five trees on campus for the past several years. Each afternoon one of the students in lab collects 50 milliliters of sap from each tree and can either dump out the extra sap or use it to make maple syrup.

Making maple syrup isn’t a difficult process; you simply start to boil sap and keep it going. However, it’s also a bit disheartening, as it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Lugging an enormous water cooler full of sap from the woods on the edge of campus then spending three or four hours in a hot kitchen only to end up with just enough syrup for one pancake has given me an immense appreciation for “real” maple sugarers. As much as I love that sweet maple taste, I’d rather leave the work to the experts and pick up my syrup either at the local farmers’ market or in the Middlebury College dining halls.

My favorite way to eat my maple syrup is to mix it with plain yogurt for a delicious, just-sweet-enough treat. I may or may not do this almost every morning for breakfast…

In any case, I’d like to leave you with a parting verse by John G. Saxe that appeared in the Vermont Department of Agriculture Bulletin in 1915:

“Men, women, maple sugar and horses;
The first are strong, the latter fleet,
The second and third are exceedingly sweet,
And all are uncommonly hard to beat.”

True Life: I Survive in the Green Mountains

It may come as no surprise (if you are a middkid) and the people from U.S. News Today, that we have lots and lots of homework. And I do not mean the busy work they give you in high school that you procrastinate on and ultimately finish 5 minutes before class. I mean a never ending supply of assignments, labs, papers and research proposals that if you truly calculated would take you about 7 years, 3 months, and 4 business days to complete. Middlebury on the other hand wants you to do it all in 4 years, plus or minus 2 J-terms.

Coming to Middlebury, I was excited! I planned on being a History and English major so I would be able to read and write all day. Then I had a few epiphanies and decided I like the sciences and film studies; two academic areas that would absorb my time both meta-physically and cognitively. Not only did I have classes during the day from 8 – 4:30pm, but I would have night classes at least 2 days a week, rendering me exhausted and dazed as I trekked through the snow back to my room during the wee hours of the morning only to sleep 5 -6 hours and do it all over again when the birds began to sing. I have tried many times to operate on auto-pilot. Yet as technology would have it, something always malfunctions and I am left troubleshooting my way back into the swing of things.

Reading this, many Middkids would probably respond with a face resembling one such as this -> 0_0.  Wondering why did she break the blue panther shield of silence? We are supposed to keep up the image that we are unstoppable, indefatigable in our attempts to achieve excellence and raise the bar of liberal arts academia to new heights. Yet the reality is: We  All Struggle. Each and every one of us has had a day, or two or three (hell, let’s round up to a semester) where we question why we are here. Are we really smart or are we just exceptional skimmers and plot over-viewers? Where we look at a lab write up and ask ourselves “Would Chinese 101 be easier?” Where we sit in class looking at the clock, praying that our eye-lids don’t close for too long and our notes will be legible later on today and not resemble ancient Sanskrit.  But the reality is, we do it. We make it though. We might not be unscathed, but if it is anything we have learned from this 200k education, it’s how to fake till you make it. Welcome to the Big Midd Blue.

Voices Along the Way (First Year Seminar)

In the summer of 2008, before I entered Middlebury College as a first-year student, I remember receiving an e-mail from Middlebury College asking me to sign up for a first year seminar. I perused through the catalog, wondering if a Lord of the Ring’s seminar would interest me as much as Ecological History of Vermont. As I am reaching towards the end of the catalog, I came across with this fascinating title: Voices Along the Way. The first impression was storytelling, creative writing, and academic research.  The seminar designed for international students is an introduction to contemporary American culture via literature and film. I decided this was the perfect class for me to learn about American literature and culture.

Three months later, the first day of Voices Along the Way, I sat on a comfy red couch surrounded by fourteen other first-year students in Coltrane Lounge, Adirondack House. After a brief introduction from Professor Skubikowski, we were asked to introduce ourselves by using a map in the room and pinpointing our journey across the world, starting from where we were born all the way to our present location at Middlebury, Vermont. All of the sudden, I froze with my heart beating fast in my throat and I asked myself, “Is this a seminar designed for international students? How distracted were you to NOT read that specific detail in the course catalog? Now what excuse will I come up with and say that I am not an international student?”

One ny one, my peers stood up in front of the class and elaborated on their international journey from across the world to Middlebury, Vermont. Some came from Europe and traveled to Asia. Others had rigorous journeys, like coming from Africa, studying Europe, and traveling to South America to come to Middlebury, Vermont. I had no story. I was born and bred in New York City. End of story.

Professor Skubikowski looked at me with a smile on her face and asked me introduce myself to the class. I decided to tell them the truth. I started by saying that I was born in New York City and grew up there ALL my life, but I would like to start my journey  in a small country in South America, Ecuador. I told them about my ancestors, how they had founded a village named Datas and had lived there till my Great-grandparents moved to the nearest city, Guayaquil in the 1950s. I told them that my ancestors have a rich history because storytelling was an important element in my family. We have passed down stories from generation to generation, learning that we were part of the nowaday “Inca Empire”, that our male ancestors came from Cordoba, Spain, that our African great (x6) grandmother was a runaway slave from La Sierra, that my mother’s paternal great grandparents came from Japan in the 1900s, and that I should be proud I come from the four courners of the world.

And at that instant, I remember why I signed up for this class: Because I also wanted to learn about my American culture and what does it mean to be an American citizen from the international and domestic perspective. To this day, I never regretted the decision. This was a great start in my college career as a storyteller and writer.

Round Tables/Long Tables

Say you head to the dining hall for lunch one afternoon with a group of friends. You grab your food, your drink, a few napkins (maybe you’re a messy eater–that’s OK), and then meet with your friends again to grab a table.

If you are at Middlebury, and you happen to be at either Ross or Proctor dining halls, you head to one of the long tables, and that is that. You sit across from your friends, and it doesn’t make much of a difference who might be in the general vicinity. Barring a neighbor smelling exceptionally funky, where you actually sit probably won’t matter.

If you go to Atwater dining hall, on the other hand, things are going to be trickier. Atwater only has round tables.

Let’s get back to our scenario. Say you go to lunch around mid-day, things are pretty crowded, and there isn’t a pristine, unoccupied table available. You and your friends are left with two options. If the weather is nice, you can head outside and find a place to sit down. If it’s not, it’s either take a seat on the floor or take the proverbial plunge.

In other words, the odds dictate that between the months of November and March, you are going to have to join a group of relative strangers for lunch. Better/Worse yet, due to the magical nature of circles, your most obvious conversation partner probably won’t be one of your friends.

Long preface, here’s the point: Middlebury is the kind of place where sitting at that table is not only OK but encouraged. Further, Middlebury is the kind of place where that table ends up sharing a conversation. It would be awkward, but doable, to sit down and not make eye contact with any of the strangers sitting nearby. It would be awkward, but doable, to speak to only your friends in hushed tones for the course of the meal.

Instead, the scene you will find at Atwater on any given afternoon is not unlike the one you might expect during freshmen orientation. Students are shaking hands, introducing themselves, and running through the standard introductory conversation. What’s your name? Where are you from? What are you studying? From there, the discussion can take any number of turns.

A common denominator at Middlebury is curiosity. Of course, intellectual curiosity, but social curiosity as well. I met Matt from Little Rock yesterday. He’s a sophomore and majoring in economics. He played club soccer throughout high school, so we spent most of lunch comparing notes on clubs we knew throughout the Southeast.

A situation unique to Middlebury? I certainly hope not. But the takeaway message here is fairly clear: round table or long table, you’re in for a pleasant lunch.

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.

Fall Break: Food and Friends

Today marks the first day of Fall Break, a strategically placed four- day break in the middle of the fall semester that gives everyone a chance to take a breather after the first round of midterms and papers and projects has been completed.  For some, this break provides the chance to head home for a round of home-cooked meals and free laundry. Others take the chance to visit Boston, New York, Montreal or other nearby cities with friends, and still others choose to stay on campus and take advantage of the peace and quiet to catch up on sleep or work. Students and faculty alike appreciate this built-in pause in the middle of the semester as a way to regroup and refresh for the remainder of the semester, which includes such exciting events like Homecoming (next weekend),  Halloween, the annual Fall Concert and finally, final exams.

This fall break, I’m embarking upon a mini road trip with a friend, starting down in Boston to visit a friend who graduated a couple of years ago and then winding our way back up to Middlebury, via several small towns with culinary establishments we’ve been wanting to visit. This trip combines two of the things that have been most important to me about my time at Middlebury; good food and good friends. Middlebury, and environs, offers much to its students in both of these areas. I’ve been fortunate over the course of my four years here to develop many close friendships that I know will last long after we’ve all received our Middlebury diplomas and Painter’s canes. These relationships enrich my life everyday and have made Middlebury more than just a school, but a home.

Also, for those of us who often have food on the mind, Middlebury has a lot to offer as well. On this trip, we’re hoping to visit the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory and the Cabot cheese factory in Waterbury, Vermont. If you haven’t yet experienced the wonders of Cabot extra sharp cheddar cheese, I encourage you to try it. We’re also hoping to catch the tail end of the Vermont foliage season, which never ceases to amaze me.  Closer to home, the town of Middlebury also offers a lot to the foodie. The farmer’s market, which takes place every Saturday morning, brings together many farmers and producers in Addison County, offering  apples, bread, veggies, meat, wine, cheese, and much more. The Middlebury Co-Op is a natural foods cooperative offering anything and everything your vegan, organic, gluten-free heart could desire.  And American Flatbread, an iconic pizza establishment in Vermont, serves up delicious hearth bread pizzas, salads and desserts five nights a week in a wonderfully cozy restaurant with red-checkered tablecloths and tea lights. These places have been the foundations of my food life at Middlebury, and when I want a brief break from the dining halls, they always deliver.

So, on this trip, I’m looking forward to enjoying the best that Middlebury has to offer—good friends, good food, and a brief break from homework.

Fall Family Weekend

Soon after leaving for college, I learned that my parents have this eccentric habit of trying to stay in touch with their children after they leave home.  Even more bizarre, it seemed that the families of many of my friends had the same habit.  Who knew?

This odd trend, surely unique to Middlebury parents, led to the creation of Fall Family Weekend.  This weekend is a campus-wide celebration of both how much Middlebury students love and appreciate their families and also how grateful they are to no longer be living at home.  The College puts on a whole host of events: lectures, open houses, performances, panel discussions, screenings, and more to bring students, faculty and families together.  These events often occur back to back and are always located as far as possible from one another.  This ensures that you spend the majority of the weekend with your parents walking around in the rain.  This goes along with the long-held theory* in psychology that family bonds are best strengthened by damp, chilly, and exhausting situations.

For me, it is always a privilege to show my family the things that I’ve accepted as normal in my Middlebury life.  Things like eating in the dining halls (my parents LOVE the dining halls), spending time with my suitemates, going to the farmers’ market, attending guest lectures, and walking up Chipman Hill are the norm for me but hardly for my parents.  Being able to show my parents and sister what my life here actually (well, vaguely) looks like helps us to better connect with one another and to see my education here in context.

And context is really what Fall Family Weekend teaches you.  When you meet your friends’ parents you realize that everyone here, as much as they appear to be completely singular and independent, comes from a background that helped shape them to be here.  At the same time, you connect your Middlebury education to the way that YOU were raised, and your parents do exactly the same from the opposite perspective.  Bringing parents to Middlebury helps to break down the barrier that all of us unintentionally place between our college lives and our lives prior to Middlebury.

Long live Fall Family weekend!

But wow, thank goodness it’s over.

*not a real-life theory