25 September 2010 @ 12:36 pm
Personal Entry No. 58  
And now for a genuine personal post! There's even a new icon post over at [livejournal.com profile] momoizumu, too, like old times.

Middlebury itself is a beautiful school, and appears to be well-managed in all areas except for its absolutely pathetic computer labs. (The library had a magnificent collection of Russian texts alone, and yet they somehow couldn't provide enough computers to print from during the school day.) I'm easily impressed, but Middlebury has separate buildings for its language and science departments! With a 24-inch DFM Engineering telescope and four others! And a greenhouse with cacti, lotuses, a lithops, cacao, vanilla, and coffee plants, and a popular mimosa! And multiple theaters! And food prepared by actual chefs instead of a dining services corporation! (The food really was restaurant-quality. I can see why Middlebury charges so much for admission for its yearly students.)

Unfortunately, while the town of Middlebury itself is beautiful, I only got to walk around it twice -- once before I moved into my dorm, and once after I moved out. The campus -- which is much larger than it seems at first -- was the full range of my movement for nine weeks, so I got used to it very quickly. That's not necessarily a bad thing: the architecture of the buildings is both varied yet well-thought-out, there are some well-shaded nature trails, and the campus is covered with trees, art installations, and even (tastefully-placed) patches of wild growth. I do have photographs, and ought to finish the translation on my last Middlebury post so as to make it public...

While the classwork was heavily intensive, and we had almost no free time during the week, the professors and School administrators at least let us have the weekends to explore the campus and enjoy ourselves. The first weekend in particular seemed to stretch on forever: instead of having us take the Language Pledge immediately after receiving our ID cards and filling out all of the necessary paperwork (as some schools did, apparently), the heads...bossmen...general figures in charge gave us roughly three days to get acquainted with each other (and the campus) in English. I appreciated it at the time, but in retrospect it generated a very ominous air of doom and inevitability to the Pledge -- almost as if we knew that the moon was going to fall down in three days, and none of us knew how to play the Song of Time on the balalaika. It definitely didn't help that the school heads were unclear on how often we could contact our parents, spouses, and other loved ones.

As for actually living under the Pledge, it damaged my social abilities significantly in the beginning (something which I can talk more about later), but was otherwise not too constricting or oppressive. Our professors were very clear and simple in their grammatical explanations, and were also patient with our stumbling attempts at questions; likewise, higher-level students did their best to bear with the lower levels. Ultimately I grew so used to speaking Russian every day, it was startling and uncomfortable whenever I actually had to use English (talking to the staff at the post office or at the College Store, for example). The last few days of the program were nothing short of surreal, as I had forgotten what my classmates sounded like when they spoke English!

I would be lying if I wrote that I made new friends without any trouble. I've improved a lot from my freshman year, during which I spent most of my time holed up in my room and slowly developing a kidney stone from eating Spicy Kimchi Noodles1, but the restrictions of the Language Pledge strongly cloud over one's true personality: at level 4 out of 7, it's difficult to even talk about one's hobbies, let alone things like politics or philosophy or literature. (Most of the students were too afraid to talk, period, at the beginning of the program, and during the middle our conversations were mostly along the lines of "Did you like our last test? What hot weather! Did you finish your homework? When is Russian Choir?")2

The student body was remarkably varied, though. We didn't have a plethora of "scholars and artists, entrepreneurs and political leaders" this year, as the Schools' website and our information booklet claimed: the attendees were mostly university students with some teachers and assorted professionals mixed in, ranging from 18 to roughly 30 years old. (I noticed a priest and several nuns in the German School, as well, but can't say anything else about the other Schools' student makeup.) We all got along cordially, if not famously as the program wore on: I was lucky to be attending with two other students from my own university, but most of the students didn't know anyone else at all, so we were pretty much thrust together under the banner of unfamiliarity and illiteracy. Moreover, we were all united by the fact that we wanted to learn. Everyone was there not because they thought it would be cool to learn Russian, or because they were interested in the sports teams, or because they were unsure of what to do with their lives -- they were there because they knew they wanted to study Russian language and culture.

I, for one, got along best with my comrades in the Русский смелый хор, or the "Dashing/Daring/Bold Russian Choir." You can see our performance here -- if you only have time to watch one video, just watch the last one!

Strangely, while all but one of the professors in the undergraduate program were Russian women, both the Director (Jason Merrill, whom we saw often at mealtimes and even got to be the Tsarina for five minutes during the Choir's performance) and the Coordinator (John Stokes, who appeared briefly during the beginning and the end of the program, but never in between) were Americans. That's not to discredit their study of the Russian language, but it did make for a humorous contrast with the other Directors of the Schools during official ceremonies: "For the School of Chinese, Jianhua Bai...for the school of French, Aline Germain-Rutherford...for the School of German, Doris Kirchner...for the School of Hebrew, Vardit Ringvald...for the School of Italian, Antonio Vitti...for the School of Japanese, Kazumi Hatasa...for the School of Russian, Jason Merrill...for the School of Spanish, Jacobo Sefamí..." (On that note, the Japanese Director was hilarious. I have no idea what he said to his students during the opening ceremony for the Schools, but he started out by walking calmly up to the podium, putting on a pair of sunglasses, pausing, and...taking a drag on what appeared to be a cigarette.)

These are very disjointed thoughts on my "Middlebury experience:" I could have written more about the carillon concerts, or the sight the mountains from my window every morning, or time when I watched my friend's football match for the first time under the blazing sun. There was also my brief wandering through the school's art museum and its back fields, the sweet smell of the greenhouse, and the empty feeling I got when I realized that I had missed the official end of the Pledge and everyone could speak English again. I seriously considered abandoning the program and going home at the beginning. I didn't. And now, like many of the students who went on to provide quote fodder for the Language Schools' website, I think I can say that it was the single most rewarding academic experience I have ever had the honor of attending.

Finally, I should apologize for not doing as I promised and writing in Russian as well as English. My grammar, listening, and reading comprehension jumped -- the program is roughly equivalent to a year's worth of study -- and my writing skills have definitely improved. But while I feel more comfortable writing compositions for my Russian class right now, I'm still very much afraid of exposing my mistakes to people other than my professors. Likewise, I worry that my Russian is too stiff-sounding: my English alone is a lot more casual on the Internet than in my normal writing or even my normal speech, and I feel that I should do the same with Russian. Let's hope that this year brings more opportunities for me to practice.

It's hard to believe that it's the fifth week of school already! My classes are going fine: I'm taking a course on Japanese history from the end of the Tokugawa period to the present, Russian 301/401, Japanese 102, and...Introduction to International Relations, which I should have taken in my freshman year and couldn't have taken in my sophomore year due to scheduling problems. The Russian class in unusual in that the level 300 and level 400 students use the same curriculum, but are graded by different standards, as the 300 students have literally jumped from Chapter 5 of "Гололса: A Basic Course in Russian" to "Russian in Use: An Interactive Approach to Advanced Communicative Competence." It's not particularly difficult: memorizing the new vocabulary has thus far been more of a problem than the grammar, which for now is just an overview of verbal aspect, conjunctions, and spacial prepositions -- a step back from Middlebury, where we were studying gerunds, passive and active participles, and the subjunctive.

As I wrote in the icon post over at [livejournal.com profile] momoizumu, I've also joined more clubs this semester. On top of Peer Ministry and the Community Chorus, I'm taking fencing lessons for the first time (and am technically on the team, since this is a "club sport"); both my father and his father fenced during their college years, so it's a tradition in the family. Unfortunately, it's going to be a very, very long time before I can even think of winning a bout -- I still have trouble keeping my feet in line! For now we've gone over the basic footwork, parries (and counter-parries) 4,6,7,8, the lunge, the riposte, the beat, the disengage, and the feint, which are all very basic. We only had our first bouts (against each other, but also briefly against our instructor) this week, so let's see how things go from here.

I also tried out for and was able to get in to the College Chorale, which is incredibly exciting! I tried out last year but failed to get in due to my weak voice and awful sense of rhythm, so I've been taking voice lessons ever since in an effort to improve. We're singing Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, a collection of songs based on a larger and older collection of songs of the same name which includes the overused famous "O Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi." I bet you can guess why I'm upset that I was bumped up to Alto I from Alto II -- I have to sing Soprano II at points, which in Blanziflor et Helena involves sustained high notes that I can't sustain all that well. It's an incredibly awe-inspiring, beautiful, and even at points comedic work, though -- I'm honored that I'm allowed to participate in it!

I've been trying to stay connected to the Anime/Science Fiction/Korean Drama/CYBORGS Club as well, but...my brother is giving me so much grief over it. He doesn't mean anything serious by it, though...I hope.

Comment on this entry and I will give you a letter. Name 5 songs you love starting with that letter.

[livejournal.com profile] lavender88 gave me the letter "F" for "Fandom." That can't be too hard, right?

...It was. D:

01 // Suite in F Major (G. F. Handel)
My favorite part starts at roughly 3:00 in the third video.

02 // Frame of Mind (Aurora, destructo, SGX)

03 // Fairy (May'n)

04 // Forest of Fireflies (Kobato. soundtrack)

05// Floret silva (Carl Orff)

Fortunately, I've gotten myself a Pixiv account! Unfortunately, I've also started uploading things to it, which clearly means that I am going to lose sleep for the next few months over whether or not the (mostly) Japanese fandom likes my digital scribbles. I shall consider myself successful when someone on LJ finds my fanart on Danbooru, crops them, and posts them as artsy icons.

More seriously, though, I'm beginning to regret it, as I now feel obligated to post captions in Japanese...when I still can barely write in Japanese. Our classes are centered around Professor Eleanor Jorden's Japanese: The Spoken Language, which -- as the title suggests -- doesn't focus on the written language at all; as such, while conversationally we're ahead of students studying at the same level with different texts, we're very definitely illiterate.3 That said, I feel that the textbook's grammar explanations are remarkably clear and illustrative based on what I've heard about other people's problems with Japanese. At least everybody seems to fully understand the difference between "wa" and "ga!"

1 No, seriously, Spicy Kimchi Noodles and Spicy Kimchi Noodles alone gave me my first kidney stone. They contain the average human being's daily allowance of sodium, and possibly the average horse's, too. Do not eat these noodles.

2 What's ironic about this is that the weather is not a good subject for small talk in Russia. It's too boring and pointless.

3 Thus far we only know a chunk of the katakana syllabary, which Professor Jorden started off with in JWL (Japanese: The Written Language) on the basis that it would provide us with many more words to read and write off the bat. (I myself was pretty dubious about it at first, but if you think about it, what can we do with hiragana at this point? Write out particles and the copula over and over again? We need kanji to make it work!)
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pleonasm[personal profile] pleonasm on September 25th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC)
Cute, or porn. There's little in-between.

That's pretty cool! I'd never heard of a just-for-languages college.
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[identity profile] outou.livejournal.com on September 26th, 2010 09:03 pm (UTC)
The Middlebury Language Schools are actually a summer program -- Middlebury itself is a normal (if highly-rated) college during the school year. : D
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