Middlebury, Je T’ehhh…

By Emily Singer

“After living in a big city and growing so much, it’s hard to shrink back down to fit into Middlebury to adjust back to all this stuff,” a friend who had recently returned from a semester-abroad-in-a-major-European-cultural-and-historical-urban-environment said to me in an Atwater stairwell on a recent Saturday night.

I can’t say that I disagree with her. I spent my fall semester in Paris, and while it was turbulent at best (ask me about my homestay!) and I suffered from debilitating Midd FOMO (fear of missing out), coming back here has been harder than I thought it would be. More than anything else, returning to this lil’ slice of bucolic heavenly pie has made me aware of everything we take for granted.

In Paris, there were days when I wouldn’t speak to anyone. There were days when I wouldn’t interact with anyone my age. Studying abroad was lonely and isolating, but it was an incredible learning experience and it allowed for personal growth that, for better or for worse, I likely would not have achieved any other way.

Whether we realize it or not, Middlebury does almost everything for us. We are given three all-you-can-eat buffets each day, plus DIY paninis, salads and, more recently, stir-fry. We are provided with an academic framework that gives us the freedom to take the classes that we want, choosing a courseload that can range in difficulty from second-semester-senior-special-student-snoozin’-through-lectures to five-classes-plus-labs-and-discussion-sections. We have a library full of books that we can browse when we want to and where we want to, without going through a tedious interview process to gain access to said books (ask me about the BNF, too!).

This range of options with which the College provides us was something that I desperately longed for while in Paris, but was somehow unable to handle once back at Middlebury. In trying to figure out what message I wanted this column to convey (something like, “pity me because coming back from abroad is really hard,” but less whiney), I realized why I’ve been having a hard time settling in.

Studying abroad in Paris gave me a glimpse of what post-graduate, post-Middlebury life will be like. I could go out to dinner to a fancy restaurant on a Tuesday night, and then hit up my favorite hole-in-the-wall dumpling joint on Wednesday. Within the structure that was laid out for me by my classes and internship abroad, I was able to live how I wanted, independently and on my own terms. Middlebury gives us options and the resources to take advantage of those options. The real world just gives us options.

While I’ve already returned to my pre-abroad lifestyle as a lib dweller and Proctor lingerer, being at Middlebury is different now. I certainly love and appreciate the protective bubble that we’re all a part of, but I can’t let go of the self-sufficiency and independence I developed while living in a foreign city with fewer friends than fingers on my right hand.

I’m still trying to figure out what to make of my experiences abroad and how to apply them to life at Middlebury, and I probably will be for a while. I appreciate the protection, security and guidance that we have on campus just as much as I appreciate the freedom of city living. One is not better than the other.

At the end of the day, though, Middlebury is nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing like the real world. After all, we call it a bubble for a reason. There are no open containers or alcohol citations in the real world. You have to make more of an effort to meet people and have a social life. You have to cook, and doing laundry usually costs more than $1.25, and parking tickets cost more than $50, and going to the gym doesn’t just naturally happen at 4:30 p.m., and doctors will finally prescribe you something other than a sinus rinse, and Bean Boots might not be socially acceptable anymore and when you talk about dunkaroos, people will think of snack food, not buckets of ice cold water.

Middlebury holds our hand, and that’s great. But if living in France and then coming back here has taught me one thing, it’s that I’ll be screwed once graduation rolls around.