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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

J-Term 101: How to embrace winter at Middlebury

As the sun begins to set ever earlier in the afternoon, and the bitter chill creeps into students’ dorm rooms, the reality of winter in Vermont slowly but surely sets in across campus. These last two weeks of the fall semester and the looming reality of J-Term represent significant changes to student life on campus.

January offers a much different schedule from a typical semester at Middlebury. For most students, J-Term means more free time — a welcome change of pace for many, but an uncomfortable one for others. If this is your first year here, know that Vermont winter is no joke. The freezing temperatures in December and January make it difficult for many students to get outside like they once did amidst sunny September skies. Keep this in mind when making plans and preparing for the winter months.

Many students trade in their textbooks for skis and pens for poles, choosing to fill their academic void with days of skiing. However, that’s not for everyone, and there are many other ways to spend one’s time. As we head into the new year, we offer the following tips for making the most of winter at Middlebury, whether this coming J-Term is your first or your last. 

We recommend that you enjoy the (limited) daylight and go outside. Even when it is cold, spending time outdoors is important for mental and physical health. You don’t have to ski, or do any winter sport for that matter, to enjoy the outdoors in the wintertime. Spending time outside could mean going for a twenty-minute walk or sitting on a bench on campus, drinking a warm beverage and talking to a friend. You will be glad to see the daylight before it gets dark at 5 p.m. and avoid cabin fever.

Revamp and brighten up your space. If you expect to be spending more time in your room over J-Term, consider moving your furniture around or purchasing some new decorations. After all, we are halfway through the year, and a change of scenery could feel nice. Experiment with lighting — holiday lights in your room could brighten up an otherwise dreary day. Sun lamps are also available to borrow at Davis Family Library.

Take advantage of free opportunities. When there is snowfall, the golf course becomes a cross-country skiing haven, and gear is available for free rental through the Gear Room in the Freeman International Center. If you have never tried cross-country skiing before, Club Nordic offers free lessons, and the learning curve is not as steep as with alpine skiing. With other winter activities, such as alpine ski lessons at the Snow Bowl, if cost is a barrier, there are Student Access and Support Grants available, which can be used for both recreational excursions and winter clothing. Outdoor recreation is a great way to take advantage of Vermont’s coldest season, and Middlebury offers opportunities to try otherwise more inaccessible sports.

Tackle your to-do list. When you are in the throes of an academically challenging semester, there never seems to be enough time in the day to complete everything you set out to do. Consider keeping a running list of things you’d like to do but don’t have the time for presently. Over J-Term, accomplish these things. For example, read a book that has been sitting on your bookshelf, or spend some more time considering post-grad possibilities. J-Term could be a great time for these non-school-related activities. 

Sometimes, throw away the to-do list and be spontaneous. J-Term is the perfect opportunity to go caroling, drink hot chocolate inside an igloo or devise an elaborate murder mystery plot with your friends. Say yes to things, and do the activities you always claim you would do if you had more time. For the first time for many Middlebury students, we can afford to waste time. Do activities simply because you can, with no cost-benefit analysis.  

Attend winter sporting events. Swimming, basketball, ice hockey, squash, indoor track and Nordic and alpine skiing are all in season during the winter. J-Term can be a fun time to attend sporting events and cheer on your peers. Better yet, if you would like to play some of these sports yourself, consider participating in club or intramural sports. 

It is not just about skiing. If you do not know how to ski or have no interest in skiing, you are not the only one, even though it sometimes feels like everyone else here has been on skis since they could walk. Other winter activities may be more up your alley. Sledding, snowshoeing, building snow people or igloos and ice skating are all fun and accessible ways to take advantage of winter in Vermont.

We hope the above list inspires you to try something new this J-Term. If your J-Term is academically challenging and you do not have much time for fun activities, know that you are not alone. While J-Term is intended to be somewhat of a break from the busyness and academic depths of the fall and spring semesters — earning it the name “J-Term, play term” among some students — it is not that way for all. If you are taking an introductory language course or “Microbial Pathogenesis,” you may be spending just as much time in the classroom as you do during a regular semester. Even if you are spending little to no time in the classroom because you are finishing up your thesis or doing an independent study, you may be required to tap into new levels of self-motivation and discipline. If your J-Term looks like this and you are not happy about it, know that you are not alone. We recommend you strike a balance between the difficulty of your J-Term course and the heightened social activity on campus — the beauty of J-Term is that there is enough extra time for relaxation, whether you fully commit or choose to relax in moderation.

It is natural to be uncomfortable with having free time. After all, we Middlebury students are used to having daily schedules full of classes on top of socializing, work, clubs or sports. We are used to spreading ourselves thin. As uncomfortable as it might be, J-Term is a good time to sit back, relax and reflect. If you have tried this and you are still seeking more stimulation, whether that be academic, social or activity-wise, such opportunities can be found. Whether it is a difficult and time-consuming course, a goal to ski as much as possible, or a desire to dabble in a bunch of new things, there are always ways to enjoy J-Term.

If J-Term is your cup of tea (or hot cocoa), then these upcoming four weeks will be a fun-filled time of adventure and opportunity. If you feel crammed with coursework or other activities, remember that it is, after all, only four weeks of your life. Flanked by the Winter and February breaks, J-Term is a moment in time on campus that often is over before you know it — for better or for worse.