As a junior currently studying abroad, many of my classmates assume I, like so many juniors before me, have become disillusioned with the tiny New England liberal arts college I’ve attended for more than 10 percent of my life. Generations of juniors at the College have decided to uproot themselves from the purple bubble – some due to claustrophobia from the small campus population, others because of their desire to engage in the adventure of learning about different cultures and some because they seek the chance to practice a language. But before underclassmen start counting down the days till they, too, can take off and spend a semester overseas, they should take advantage of some underutilized campus resources: our art history and developmental economics graduate students and our international teaching assistants.
Too often, I hear Ephs complaining about how few students attend our school. It’s true: For many students who come from big cities or straight from high schools that are 50 percent or more bigger in population, seeing the same clusters of people every day can become suffocating. But before we claim to “know everyone” on campus, it’s time we recognize that there’s a whole community of students with whom few undergraduates are actually familiar. How many of us can say we’re acquainted with any of the Center for Development Economics (CDE) students? Or the Graduate Program in the History of Art students? Or any of the teaching assistants (TAs) who teach the dozens of language conference seminars? Let’s get to know them first before we whine about our limited social scene here at the College.
In fact, the adults of the various non-undergraduate programs make ideal friends for a number of reasons. As shown through traditions like the entry system, the College encourages its students to learn from each other – each and every individual brings a different perspective thanks to different backgrounds and experiences. Our graduate students and international TAs bring experiences to the community that are even more unique than those of our undergraduate peers. The CDE students hail from countries less represented among international undergraduate Ephs, and, like the art history graduate students and foreign language TAs, most are much older than we are and have more adventures under their belts and stories to tell.
Furthermore, TAs and graduate students are valuable resources to the typical undergraduate Eph. If you’re looking to practice a language, there is no better way than doing so with a native speaker. If you want to learn how to cook a fun foreign dish, chances are one of our friends at the CDE or language office might know how to make it. And if you’re browsing the course catalog, very unsure about which upper-level art history class to take or which professors are more your style, why not ask the art history graduate students, who have plenty of wisdom to impart on those topics.
Finally, with graduate students and TAs, you never know where your friendship could take you. When befriending an art history student, it’s possible you’re befriending the next great curator at one of the country’s best museums; imagine how fun it would be to take a private tour of the newest Metropolitan Museum of Art collection with that friend from college who also happened to head the exhibit. Less far-fetched, perhaps, is the chance to visit a CDE or TA abroad in their home country. My own Spanish TA from last year lives in Argentina, where I’m currently studying abroad, and I’m planning on visiting her in about a month, an experience I already know will be unforgettable.
In some respects, we owe it to our older and wiser community members to integrate them into the greater society at the College, as they do so much for us throughout the year. From the international food fair to the language tables to some exhibits at the Williams College Museum of Art, it’s very likely you’ve attended at least one of the many events the grad students and TAs hold throughout the year. A Log Lunch last semester featured some of our friends at the CDE talking about environmental problems and solutions in their native countries. If you’ve had any type of language class, I’m sure you’ve been invited to some sort of event by your TA. It’s time we give back to these overlooked cohabiters of the purple bubble who already do so much for us and for our community.
With that said, it’s possible our friends over at the CDE, Graduate Program in the History of Art and foreign language departments are not interested in making ties with mere undergraduates. After all, there is a large gap in age to begin with, and I can only imagine that there is a similar gap in maturity level. Many of them have already graduated college and are no longer in the same mindset as undergraduates and have already lived through many of the experiences that embellish our four years at the College. Still, I personally have a number of friends who have successfully formed friendships and relationships with these students. From what it seems, graduate students and international teaching assistants are more than willing to get to know us, and we should take the opportunity to do so. You never know until you try!
Libby Dvir ’16 is a psychology major and justice and law concentrator from New York, N.Y. She is currently studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.