MAlt lessons reach into College life

By Middlebury Campus

Musical Chairs is an incredibly stressful game. I have few fond memories of this birthday party favorite. As I recall, manic kiddie music was featured prominently. Perhaps when we were a bit older and I was a bit luckier, we’d get to take a stroll around to Aaron Carter’s “Dream Street.”

This past week I engaged in Musical Chairs: College Edition. It’s called shopping for classes, and like the childhood classic I am not a fan. Although my schedule was mostly figured out this semester, that did not save me from sitting in on two extra Spanish classes and explaining to one professor exactly why the world would literally end if I did not get to take her Sociology course (this will, of course, be followed by a sit-in, to end only when I am taken off the waitlist). This week picking classes has been my primary concern.

A secondary concern, walking into the bookstore today, was finding the used copies with the least number of mark-ups, coffee rings and bent covers. Avoiding the hardcover textbooks would have been nice too. That is not even mentioning the total fallacy that is the glorified Panther Points system; for $1,000, you get $50 back, which is exactly 5 percent of what you spent. This is the Platinum Reward. I am promised extra perks. They have yet to materialize.

This was not the case a week ago, when I was a member of the MALT trip to El Paso, Texas and my primary concern was nothing more or less than The Fate of the Mexican Migrant. This may sound needlessly grandiose, but let me explain. El Paso straddles the United States-Mexican border. It is separated from the Mexican city of Juarez only by a sad little stream of a river called the Rio Grande. Our group participated in a Border Awareness Experience, which means that although we were painting fewer walls and weeding fewer gardens — participating in less direct service — we stayed at a shelter catering to undocumented immigrants, ate most of our meals with the guests, cleaned the kitchen and salsa together. We spent our days touring detention centers, talking to border patrol and discussing the drug violence in Juarez.

I don’t really want to use this space to talk about immigration; it is an extremely complicated issue and I don’t think I could do it justice here. I will say that Juarez is an extremely violent city where an estimated six people die every day. I’ll also say that it is virtually impossible to immigrate legally from Mexico without some sort of close family tie with an American citizen or resident, and even then the system is hopelessly byzantine.

But I digress. There is something very valuable about taking the time to immerse ourselves in the lives of those so far outside the Middlebury bubble. I’ve come back to our snow globe renewed and centered because, despite the statistical doom and gloom, my time in El Paso has reminded me of why people are so awesome. The guests at the house inspired me with their stories and their strength. The same goes for the volunteers and activists who have dedicated their lives to service (not to mention the nuns who literally rocked my world with their unbounded enthusiasm for life). One Spanish sister, as we pulled away from their house, jumped up and down and clapped her hands. It was the same reaction I might have had at five years old, upon that rare occasion of winning a round of Musical Chairs.

So my goal for the semester is to take back some of that energy and verve, and not get too caught up in the classes and bookstore and all the other random brouhahas that might get thrown my way. At the end of the day, they’re just part of the academic shuffle.