Overseas Briefing

By Nate Sans

On Sunday, my buddy Trent tried to teach me how to surf. He kept an eye on the surf reports all day, and the swells were most forgiving at about five in the evening, so my roommate Joey and I piled into Trent’s orange Honda Element and we drove about 10 minutes to Asilomar State Beach. As we drove, Joey and I peppered Trent with questions about his surfing experience and learned that he returned from working in Guatemala with the Peace Corps about a year ago, where he taught the children of his Guatemalan host-family how to surf. When Trent left the country he left his surfboards with them so that they could continue to enjoy the passion he had shared with them.

There weren’t many people on the beach — the weather had alternated between partly-sunny, mostly-cloudy and partly-cloudy mostly-sunny all day — and most people just pull over to the side of the road that hugs the outside of the Monterey Peninsula and look at the ocean from the climate-controlled comfort of their vehicles.

We squeezed into wetsuits (I borrowed one of Trent’s old ones — it fit surprisingly well), we grabbed a few boards and waded into the surf.

Trent is an excellent teacher — he patiently explained not only how to transition from paddling a board to standing on it, but also how to read the water for the right waves and for dangerous, strength-sapping rip currents. While Trent worked with Joey, I sat on the beach and watched the sun slowly sink behind a thick bank of rain clouds gathering over the Pacific Ocean. Eventually the clouds outnumbered the rays of sun, and the waves became choppier and broke further from the shore, making them more difficult to surf. Trent decided that the coming darkness and the lousy waves rendered surfing impossible for a beginner, so we called it a day and adjourned to a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant for dinner.

While chatting over dinner Joey and I learned more about Trent’s passion for surfing and for the ocean. Joey talked about his passion for social entrepreneurship — using business as a vehicle for bettering the lives of others. As an aspiring defense policy wonk, my academic and professional interests varied significantly from either of my companions’, and I started to think about the many people with such varied passions I have met out here in Monterey, Calif.

To me this kind of diversity is different from that found at Middlebury. It is not manufactured through an admissions process, but rather it materializes as people vastly different in age, expertise and passions happen to converge in Monterey. Several weeks ago I enjoyed an Easter dinner with some friends — our group included an Egyptian woman pursuing an MBA, a French woman pursuing an MBA, a woman working towards a Master’s degree in teaching English, a Minnesota native who enlisted in the Army immediately after high school and was assigned to the Army’s Defense Language Institute (DLI, also located in Monterey) to learn Pashto and an Army officer and an Air Force officer, both French students at DLI.

When I left snowy Boston for Monterey, I didn’t expect that I would experience anything vastly different from Middlebury — after all, the Monterey Institute is “A Graduate School of Middlebury College.” But I have. I’ve made friends with people from far-flung corners of the globe — some married, some divorced, some surfers, some military, some veterans, some from the United States, some not — and that kind of broadening experience has been, to me, one of the most valuable yet unanticipated aspects of my time “abroad.”