Ephs learn Berkshire road rules

Kendra Sims ’12 explores the Berkshires while learning to drive.
Kendra Sims ’12 explores the Berkshires while learning to drive.

Norman Burdick has taught his subject for 24 years, and over the course of his teaching profession, Burdick has had approximately 5000 students, hundreds of them from the College. But you won’t find his name in the course catalog or on Factrak. That’s because Burdick is a driving instructor, and the only one in Williamstown at that. For the students who come to the College without a drivers’ license, he is their ticket out of the purple bubble, by car at least.

According to Burdick, many of his students are internationals who are not licensed to drive in the United States. “I always say that you can name any country and I bet you I’ve had a student from there,” said Burdick, who usually has about three or four Eph students at one time.  “It’s just so unbelievable . . . I always wonder where the next student will be from. I learn a lot and they learn a lot.”

One such student is Jimi Oke ’10. “I’m from Nigeria, and I didn’t know how to drive at all, so my first driving experience was with Norman last spring. It only took me a couple hours to get the hang of driving,” he said. “It wasn’t bad at all, I just had to get used to staying between the lines.”

Though Isaac Abodunrin ’11 had already earned a license at home in Malawi, it was not recognized back here in the Berkshires, so he was required to take his driving test a second time around. “Learning to drive here has been a somewhat backward experience: In Malawi we drive on the other side of the road,” he said. “So the first couple of lessons Norman would get a little annoyed and be like, ‘Oh, um, you’re driving on the wrong side,’ and I’d be like, ‘Oh yes, I am driving on the wrong side,’ and I’d have to change. But now I remember for the most part the side of the road I’m supposed to be on.”

Abodunrin also says that the plethora of road rules here took some getting used to. “To be honest, I don’t really like driving around here – there are just a lot of traffic lights for really small intersections.” But, he concedes, it’s worth it for the freedom. “If I can get the license I can apply for a ZipCar and it’s really nice to be able to increase my mobility.”

Burdick gives his students as many lessons as they need to pass the test. He knows the area well – before he retired and took on his current job with Dave’s Driving School in Pittsfield, he was a teacher in Williamstown-area schools for more than 30 years. “I like showing the Williams students around the area – you certainly are confined on that campus of yours,” he said. “It’s amazing how little the students know about the surrounding area.”

Kendra Sims ’12, another one of Burdick’s students, says it’s been nice getting to know North Adams and Berkshire County. “We once went to the border of Vermont,” she said excitedly. Sims, who is a South Carolina native, blames the fact that her “parents are lame” for her lack of driving knowledge. She was in Williamstown over the summer and decided to learn to drive once and for all. “I had driven around before, but I had never had any type of formal training, so I was like, ‘This needs to be remedied.’”

Sims is hoping that her driving lessons will ultimately pay off this winter break, where she will finally take the test to acquire her long-awaited driving license. “The first place I’m going to drive when I get my license is to all my friends’ [houses] whom I’ve had to bum rides off of,” she said.

And while the big test date might cause some nerves, past cases prove that Ephs don’t have much to worry about. “I’ve never had a Williams student that didn’t learn well enough to pass their license,” said Burdick.

Even Oke, who didn’t quite master all the elements of the driving test, emerged victorious from his examination. “I actually failed the parallel parking portion of the exam, but I still got my license,” he said.

Abodunrin, who will take the Massachusetts test next week, seems similarly unconcerned about getting his license. “I think I’m pretty prepared,” he said. “It’s just that parallel parking. Sometimes I do really well, and sometimes it just looks like I’ve never done it before.”

Despite his seemingly unwavering confidence, Abondunrin admits he did once get in a small fender-bender while on a lesson. “Norman was very cool about it . . . He told me it was 75 percent the other person’s fault and 25 percent mine . . . but I like to think it was a 100 percent their fault.”

Despite the potential for accidents during his driving lessons, Burdick still enjoys his time behind the wheel with sleep-deprived and stressed out students from the College. “They’re not anywhere near as stressed as the high school students,”he said.
And as finals period rolls around next week and the pressure of tests are bogging you down, don’t forget to de-stress and take an examination of a different sort. With Burdick’s help, passing your driving test is bound to be a lot less traumatic – if you can parallel park that is.