It’s J-Term or January Term. One class, one month. It’s a holdover from the olden days of when it got really cold (btw, there is now a facebook group entitled: “When I was your age, it snowed”). The idea is that taking one class during January mixes up the academic schedule (the Public Affairs office now calls it a “change of pace“) and allows students to avoid what can be the worst of winter here at Midd. Kids go skiing, have snowball fights, warm up inside with that mug of hot chocolate.

Well, J-term hasn’t quite lived up to all that for me. Yes, it is finally snowing here in Middlebury (we’ll probably get a few inches today), and I have gone skiing for the second time. And yes J-term has been a change of pace. But it certainly hasn’t been easy.

While other students are taking fluff classes, I’ve been holding out in J-Term Chinese. Three hours a day, five days a week plus mandatory fun. Don’t get me wrong, I love J-term Chinese. It has drastically improved my fluency in the language but it really is tough to have to step it up in academics when many others are taking a break. While others are starting movie marathons at 4PM after skiing, I’m learning 30 characters. While others go out on a Friday night, my presence is requested at a ping-pong tournament.

One of my Chinese teachers addressed this directly: “If you have a problem with seeing your friends slack off while you are working hard, grow up.” In many ways, I agree. But the question is when do we have time to relax? When do we have time to cut loose from the confines of language learning? The answer may be never.

If I want to truly grasp this language, I need to devote myself entirely to the study of it. And that’s where Middlebury has built its reputation in languages. The language departments here know that everyone comes in to the program with different motivations. But students get sucked in to the language program because one must devote so much time from the very beginning. After you’re in the program for a semester, the cost of giving up the language to pursue other academics here at Middlebury becomes extraordinarily high because one has already devoted so much to the language. In many ways, I see a lot of students here become language majors because they are defaulted into it. They take language courses semester after semester and then realize that they really can’t work on much else and then they fall right into a language major. I love the intensity of how language is taught but there needs to be a way to allow students more options to pursue greater academic interests.


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