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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A midyear experience

Published: April 27, 2012
Section: Opinions

Lovin it: A Midyear Experience by Lila Westreich

Being a midyear is not easy. When I imagined my college experience it didn’t include beginning in the second semester. High school taught me that college was four years in which you might manage to learn something in between keggers and commencements. The school I envisioned for myself was a big, based in a college town school, and reliant on football games and school spirit. Instead, I found myself walking the tangled streets of London for a semester and then thrown into a school that had none of these novelties.

My first semester was not similar to most of my midyear friends, even those who attended my London program with me. The midyear program is about throwing yourself out of the safety net and out into the world. Because I was forced into a situation in which I had to determine for myself what I was going to do for my gap-semester, I found that I had the courage to live by myself in a foreign country, as foreign as England can be.

Through this process I learned a lot about myself. I traveled through Europe, something that still leaves my friends back home envious and amazed. This doesn’t mean that you have to go across an ocean to learn something about yourself. Many of my close friends spent their semester in different states, in internships in the capitol, or branching out and taking classes at their local colleges. My personal view is that if you are given four months away from homework, midterms and finals, then you need to take a leap of faith and try something scary and new.

Taking my first semester off cleared my head and for many other midyears did the same. After the mess of high school, it was a refreshing twist to be granted with some time off before I jumped back into the ebb and flow of schoolwork. It was also energizing to have a break after the countless AP tests and final exams of high school.

When I arrived at Brandeis in January, I felt ready for college in a way I do not think I would have been if I had come directly from high school. When I arrived, I found that there were 100 other people in the same position. Placing the midyears within the same housing may have caused some disconnect from the other first-years, but it gave us a place to call home with a group of like-minded people, many of whom also benefitted from having a semester off to decompress and explore their identities outside of school.

The most surprising part of my first few days were how many people I found in the Village that shared my views and experiences. Coming in to Brandeis with a safety net of other students I had met and befriended in London helped to ease the transition into a new environment. Going on a Brandeis-sponsored study abroad program is not possible for everyone, but even meeting up for coffee in a nearby city would have been nice before coming into the mass of students at school.

Overall, I wish every student had the chance that I did. I want every student to have the opportunity to leave his or her comfort zone. I took the biggest leap of my life, and found out who I was. I always thought that that was what college was for, but who says you can’t find yourself on your semester off?

So, I didn’t find a party school in a college town and a champion football team. Instead, I found a group of people who share my views and my passion for travel. Most importantly, I found a group that had the opportunity to discover themselves before they got to college. The fact that they know themselves makes it easier to get close to them, which is what allowed the midyears to bond so quickly. We all appreciate the time we’ve had, understand the challenges to come, and realize that we are capable of taking on anything college can throw at us.

Roughin It: A Midyear Experience by Zoe Kronovet

Being a midyear is not easy. As the admissions office’s decision and the consequences of being admitted halfway through a school year settle, the panic also begins to set in. It has been said before but, despite the various pamphlets, most midyears end up with a complex.

Many conspiracies float around the halls of the Village as we ponder why it is we were forced to endure the midyear experience. Some suspect that it is because our SAT scores were poor, but that was quickly dispelled when one of us had an incredible score overall. Some of us in possession of an unshakeable ego think that midyears are just a way for Brandeis to make more money and that we are all qualified students who were just picked at random to suffer.

The real origin of the midyear program is greed. Looking for a quick way to make a buck and expand their student class, Brandeis decided to make room for another hundred students, which makes this year’s 2015 class size unsustainable and risky.

For many midyears, it is a struggle to figure out what to do for the gap-semester. Due to financial restraints some midyears are forced to stay at home and attend community college so that when they finally arrive on Brandeis’ campus in the dead of winter they aren’t as far behind.
Those with the resources attend one of the Brandeis programs that were outsourced to other universities with international programs so Brandeis doesn’t have to deal with the logistical nightmare that is transferring international credits for new students. A few pack their bags and hit the streets of Tel Aviv, Bangkok or Florence in an attempt to squeeze as much excitement into a semester as possible before they settle down in dreary Waltham.

Friendships established during the midyear semester are built under pressure. While all first-year relationships often don’t withstand the trials of time, midyear friends are especially prone to falling apart. Choosing your housing a month after you arrive forces you to make quick decisions to live with people you have known for a mere six weeks. Subsequently you end up rooming with your midyear buddy who seems to be reasonable and sane at the time but as the next semester progresses ends up being completely different.

Already now as our midyear semester is coming to an end, the cracks in cliques and friendships are beginning to be exposed. Too bad you’ve already pulled them into your hall and will be forced to look at their faces every day of sophomore year.

Brandeis touts the incredible involvement and participation of the midyear class in extracurricular activities; that happens because we feel so lost. Some midyears turn to Greek life to find inclusion and community as they flounder socially outside of the midyear community. We are searching for a way to fit into a student body that may be “excited” for us to arrive, don’t really understand why we are here or what it means. Accidental derogatory slips of the tongue pepper our days for the beginning of our time here as other first-years describe themselves as “normal” first-years.

There are serious flaws in the midyear program. For most people who don’t feel as though five classes per semester is beneficial for their college experience—a summer semester is necessary. If you participated in a Brandeis-sponsored study abroad program or took classes at a community college during your gap-semester, however, you are not allowed to take summer classes to fill university requirements, which adds more stress onto your already packed schedule. Since Brandeis rejects most high school AP credits, most of us come into school with many credits, but it amounts to nothing.

Pre-med students, especially, can have a difficult time managing all the prerequisites and required classes. Furthermore, our options for future study abroad opportunities are limited. The study abroad office informed us that if we choose to take advantage of the study abroad option during our gap-semester then we cannot take a full year of study abroad later on at Brandeis.
I’m not sure I would recommend the midyear program to anyone who isn’t in possession of a backbone and a strong desire to attend Brandeis at any cost.