Exchange students need representation

By DAN GOLSTEIN

SARAH FAGAN

Leaving behind your friends and family for a year is an immense decision, and when I touched down in Burlington after 30 hours of traveling, I couldn’t help but feel that I had chosen wrong. I was jet-lagged and overwhelmed, and to worsen matters, the only vending machine in the airport had run out of blue Gatorade. This seemed like foreshadowing. Had I made the wrong choice? Was yellow Gatorade better? More importantly, was postponing my life to spend a year abroad in a place where there are four cows to every one person the wrong decision? The answer was irrelevant, because there I was on a dark and empty bus, en route to a school I knew nothing about – my only friends the distant smell of manure seeping in through the open windows, and the same four Bryan Adams songs being blasted on repeat by the driver.

But I wasn’t alone for long. From the second I arrived at Middlebury, the International Student and Scholar Services made a fantastic effort to link all the international students together. Friendships are easier to build when people understand one another, be that in terms of common languages, shared values or mutual interests. It quickly became obvious that Middlebury is home to a sprawling global community. The student body is a melting pot of different cultures and creeds, and this made the transition for exchange students like me ineffably easier.

This was a little over a month and a half ago, however, and although efforts to ease the initial transition for exchange students were successful, we were scarcely prepared for the academic intensity that would follow. Adjusting to Middlebury’s working environment and its tight knit community is not easy. For many international students, the transition continues to be particularly tumultuous. As the work piles up and the homesickness builds, a dire institutional inadequacy becomes increasingly evident: Currently, exchange students lack any form of particularized representation or support within the SGA. This can and must be amended.

Middlebury, with all its quirks, is an overwhelming environment at the best of times. For everything from understanding the culture to just having someone to ask questions that seem far too simple to ask, exchange students are in need of someone to whom they can reach out. That someone should have both the knowledge to help, and the empathy to understand the difficulties of being an exchange student. The ultimate goal of all exchange students is to become bona fide members of this community of intelligent and eccentric individuals – and this immersion could be much easier if these students had consistent and accessible guidance.  

Such representation wouldn’t just benefit exchange students. The inherent value of exchanges lies in our unique perspectives on global education. We come from Nottingham to East Anglia, SciencesPo to La Sorbonne, Potsdam to Freie Universität Berlin; our origins may be different, but our passion for learning – and our fidelity to the institutions that allow us to harness this passion – is certainly shared. Middlebury is our home for the year, and we want to be able to contribute to the chorus of student voices which seek nothing more than to ensure this college is serving its students to the best of its ability.

Attending this school is an honor, but many exchange students feel this lack of representation emphasizes the ephemerality of our time here. It’s true; this cohort of exchange students is temporary, as the next will be, and as the last was – but there will always be exchange students. If we work now to establish a means of providing them with the support and guidance they’ll need, we can be sure that future cohorts of exchanges will be better equipped to thrive at Middlebury.

This support doesn’t necessarily translate to the inauguration of an exchange student senator. On the contrary, exchange students are a collective – united by our disparate cultural identities and our concern for each other’s well-being and academic success. As such, we seek not to elect one individual, but to create an organization – one which harnesses all available resources to build a strong support structure that endures long beyond our time here. Inspired by a commitment to our future exchange brothers and sisters, a request to establish such an organization was submitted to the SAO on Oct. 14, 2019. While it is easy to admire Middlebury’s global community, one is also obligated to recognize the difficulties associated with the borderless pursuit of human excellence. It is therefore our unequivocal responsibility to ensure that future generations of exchange students remain unabated in this virtuous pursuit.  

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