According to the Office of Assessment and Institutional Research, there are 306 students abroad this spring, most of whom are juniors. By the time a class at Middlebury graduates, nearly 60% of its members will have studied abroad.
Studying abroad is the norm. In a LinkedIn post from a couple of weeks ago, Middlebury wrote, “It’s not usually a question of if you will study abroad during your time as a #Middlebury student. The question is where you’ll choose to live and learn for a semester.” Many Middlebury students who study a language wish to take advantage of the college’s unique schools abroad. Many others seek an exciting extended vacation from rural Vermont. Others still go abroad because they see it as the thing to do and what their friends are doing.
During our sophomore year, each of our friends planned semesters abroad in Germany, France, Denmark and Chile, to name a few. After careful deliberation, and for various reasons, the three of us — who did not know each other well then — chose not to go abroad. This decision was difficult for all of us because we knew that, in doing so, we were voluntarily walking into a spring semester with the majority of our friends gone. We had to accept that spring 2023 was going to be a socially unusual semester.
At the risk of being cheesy, we offer the following list of positives and lessons garnered through our experiences as non-study-abroad juniors. There are many valid reasons not to study abroad, whether that be needing to complete major requirements, not wanting to give up the comforts of campus, wishing to continue relationships and activities at Middlebury, financial concerns, not wanting to be far away from home or a simple lack of interest. We hope to demonstrate to underclassmen hesitant about remaining at Middlebury while friends go abroad next year that staying is not so bad. The experience of remaining behind can even prove to be every bit as rewarding as a study abroad experience.
A sense of independence and autonomy over one’s schedule
Chris: At the beginning of the semester, I was confronted with the reality that I wouldn’t have as many activities planned for me by my close friends. The semester challenged me to be intentional when it came to planning activities with people, which also meant taking the initiative to do things solo.
Maggie: Not always having plans to eat meals with friends means being able to choose when you go to the dining hall and when you do other things. I felt less pressure to find a party to go to every weekend and was more flexible about how to fill my free days.
Feeling inspired to try new activities and develop new interests
Chris: With extra time during weekends this semester, I embarked on a marathon training plan for a race in late May. The long runs I’ve completed during the weekends would have been nearly impossible to fit into a regular semester. I enjoyed exploring Middlebury’s natural environment both on my own and with my new running buddies.
Maggie: With the spring being my off-season from the swim team, I discovered the joy of exercising with friends. From going on runs to biking to aqua jogging, I came to love sweating it out while spending time with others.
Realizing that getting meals alone is really “not that deep”
Chris: Getting meals by myself was really hard at first. I once thought it was shameful to get meals — particularly dinners — alone. This semester forced me to unlearn this unhealthy mindset. I became more comfortable eating by myself, and then when I did have meals with others, I enjoyed them even more.
Without one’s core group of friends around, naturally being forced to meet new people and get closer to acquaintances
Hannah: People who I may have gotten occasional meals with in previous semesters became the basis of my social life this semester. When my core group of friends is here, my time is spread thin across many people; without them here, I had more time and naturally made a greater effort to become closer to people I didn’t used to know well. I’m glad I can carry new friendships into future semesters.
Maggie: I learned to be more intentional about making meal plans or weekend plans ahead of time, and this has allowed me to reflect on the activities and ways of socializing that fulfill me the most. I have also been able to savor sweet moments with some of my friends and teammates who are graduating soon.
Realizing that things never turn out as bad as they seem in your head
Maggie: Ahead of this semester, I was nervous that I would lack opportunities for social interaction and wouldn’t be able to fill my time. It was valuable for me, though, to practice being more independent. I came to learn that I will always be able to find new ways to spend my time when the old ways are no longer an option.
Remembering that being abroad has its hard moments, too
Chris: While the transition to finding a new normal here at Middlebury wasn’t easy, I found comfort in the fact that those studying abroad were going through stressful transitions, too. It was important for me to eventually realize that social media posts weren’t necessarily showcasing the discomfort often felt by those studying abroad.
Hannah: In addition to many very exciting moments, my friends abroad have complained of being burnt out from too much travel, having trouble learning to cook for themselves and finding their programs not as immersive as they would have hoped. It’s worth remembering that there will be hardships whether you are abroad or remain at Middlebury.
While having a set group of friends to rely on can make Middlebury more fun and less stressful, we encourage underclassmen not to let their friends’ plans to go abroad pressure them into going abroad when they wouldn’t otherwise. Looking back, all three of us would have made the same decision again. We look forward to having our longtime friends return, but we will carry the above lessons with us for the rest of our time at Middlebury. For one thing, the three of us wouldn’t have become good friends were it not for this unusual semester.
Hannah Sayre is a member of the class of 2024.5 and an Opinions Editor for The Campus. Maggie Reynolds is a member of the class of 2024 and the Senior Local Editor for The Campus. Chris Donohue is a member of the class of 2024.
Maggie Reynolds '24 (she/her) is the Editor in Chief.
Maggie previously served as the Senior Local Editor, a Local Section Editor, and a Staff Writer. She spent this past J-term interning for VTDigger, covering topics from affordable housing in Addison County to town government scandals. She also interned for Seven Days VT as an arts & culture reporter summer 2022 and as a news reporter for the Daily Gazette in Schenectady, NY summer 2021.
Maggie is majoring in History and minoring in Political Science and Spanish. She was a three-year member of the Women's Swimming and Diving team. Maggie enjoys running, hiking, and iced maple lattes.
Hannah Sayre '24.5 (she/her) is the Editorial Board Director.
Hannah previously served as an Opinions Editor. She is studying economics with a minor in mathematics. At Middlebury, she likes to run, play tennis, and ski. She is from Eugene, Oregon.