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Clippings: Coming off the hill and looking around

Since arriving at Middlebury College for my freshman year in the fall of 2013, I have repeatedly been advised by older friends to spend at least one summer on campus. The implication is this: We, as students at an elite liberal arts college, are expected to use our summers to move to X big city and get Y fancy internship to prepare for post-graduate employment and success. Choosing to stay in Middlebury, though, is a way to somehow circumvent that career pressure cooker, to slow down the self-imposed rat race, and to finally experience Vermont’s beauty in the sun instead of the snow.
Despite some preconceived notions about the privilege of Middlebury students, life at the college can still be very difficult. We spend our days buried in school work, balancing jobs or extracurricular activities, and navigating complicated interpersonal relationships. Our social scene is isolating at times, and we have an athletic culture that occasionally inculcates disordered relationships with exercise and food. Statistically and anecdotally, we have a growing mental health problem. I have loved my time at the college immensely, but being there has not always guaranteed a life of ease.
Yet, through it all, the town of Middlebury has served as a reprieve from that intensity for me. My friends and I often say that the college’s saving grace is its location in Vermont; its proximity to nature, to ski mountains and hiking trails, to lakes and swimming holes, differentiates Middlebury College from its institutional counterparts. Our biggest frustration is not having the time to explore and enjoy it all.
With all of this in mind, I finally decided to heed the advice of my peers and spend the summer before my junior year in Vermont. I imagined days full of hiking, farmers’ markets and trips to Lake Dunmore. I wanted to take advantage of the free time that summer affords, and the opportunities seemed limitless without papers and exams and problem sets.
After spending nearly six weeks “off the hill,” I finally feel as though I have had the opportunity to embrace life in Vermont. Yet my experience of the town of Middlebury and my identity as one of its residents has changed significantly. Accustomed to seeing countless familiar faces in any store or restaurant, I now recognize very few of the people I encounter on a daily basis. Twenty-year-olds do not dominate public places. And although I am pleased to no longer bear the glaringly obvious label of “college student” when I venture into town, I find myself feeling dissociated from any form of community here.
I am just now beginning to realize the full extent of my college “tunnel vision,” and the way in which my sense of the permanent Addison County community can become lost, or at least secondary to that of the college. It is a unique form of entitlement that has never before been apparent to me.
There are many official ties that bind us as town and college: mentorship programs, volunteer opportunities and college offerings that are open to all, among others. College students are customers, babysitters, subletters and interns.
But what does it say about the strength of our bonds if I am so dependent on my fellow college students to feel a sense of belonging in this place that I have come to consider a second home? How do we unite as a single community if we, as students, are only here for four years? As I finish my final weeks here this summer, I ask these questions humbly and without answers.
Editor’s note: Lizzy Weiss is a summer intern at the Addison Independentand a rising junior at Middlebury College.

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