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Being a midyear used to be awesome

I was a London midyear. That means that, rather than coming to Brandeis in fall 2017, I was selected to make an unheard-of choice: sit around and do nothing for a season or take my abroad semester immediately. My other option was to go to Australia or something with Northeastern anyway, so going to London for Brandeis didn’t seem like such an insane idea at the time. I have never been more grateful to make a rash decision in my life. My experience as a midyear was foundational to my life at Brandeis, and it grieves me to no end that today’s midyears are being stuffed into East Quad.

Midyears are so misunderstood. I distinctly recall going to a Gravity Magazine meeting during my first weeks at Brandeis (spring 2018, of course) and being appalled at the midyear stereotypes on display there. One of the editors of the magazine remarked that being a midyear must be a miserable, lonely experience. I suppose you can guess why I write for The Brandeis Hoot instead? Perhaps it isn’t so unreasonable to assume that we would be sad and lonely given that we missed out on all that oh-so-delightful fall orientation fluff. As it happens, we also had an orientation in London, and it was significantly more organic (not to mention ridiculously fun) than any of the on-rails gauntlet of chaperoned experiences that Brandeis forces down your throat for days on end.

While the fall admits were watching Harry Potter sexuality presentations and awkwardly milling about their alcohol-free Farber party, the London midyears were taking in the sights of historic London, visiting bars and shopping. Our first day upon landing was a day of rest. We were shuttled from Heathrow to our place of residence, a converted maternity ward known as Princess Elizabeth House (PEH). Many of the Brandeis students were broken up into flats of six or so students. Each of these wings came equipped with a kitchen and a bathroom, not to mention an amazing hilltop view of the surrounding sprawl. You see, PEH is located near the summit of Highgate Hill, among the poshest neighborhoods in the city. We were surrounded by beautiful and probably ancient brickwork homes (the residents of which came to hate us), and we were a short walk from multiple bus stops and the London equivalent of the subway (the tube). You know Karl Marx? He was buried right next to the place.

Our formal orientation was wonderfully brief. A strange man from New Zealand herded us onto a train, and we gathered our place of learning in downtown London. From there, the proctor of our program gave us some city trivia, handed us all tube cards worth a week of free rides and a sheet of paper with a “scavenger hunt” on it. That’s it. We were kicked onto the street and told to have a good time. Absolute freedom of mobility in the heart of the most tourist-friendly city on the planet. I met some of my best friends and bought my first legal drink that day. I ate some bangers and mash. I saw a castle and the London Bridge. The stimulation didn’t end for a solid week. The proctors threw together some events in the city that we could attend if we wanted to, but it wasn’t a big deal to skip. That orientation period seemed to stretch on forever. It was seriously some of the most fun I have ever had.

My experience in London was empowering too. I wasn’t forced to buy into a meal plan over there, so I learned how to cook. Yes, a lot of Kraft Mac & Cheese was eaten, but I picked up the finer points of frying and baking as well. Since public transportation was the cheapest way to get around, and we lived a good distance from downtown, we were also forced to schedule our lives and learn to commute. Here at Brandeis I can barely wake up for my 10 a.m. classes, but in London, I woke up at 7:30 a.m. every day, and I never missed a single class. If you want to learn how to be a functional adult, Brandeis won’t help you. In London, however, we didn’t have a choice. I loved every second of it. Freedom is what we live for, and I suspect mental health at Brandeis would be a lot stronger across the board if its students didn’t feel like leashed sardines eating Sodexo slop three times a day.

The friendships I made in London endured into the spring semester. I rolled into my Village single with a complete friend group and a slew of acquaintances. Pretty much everybody knew each other, and this pre-established sense of camaraderie allowed the non-London midyears to integrate fairly easily. If you haven’t visited, Village boasts some of the nicest housing on campus. The midyears get to live there when the juniors head off on their own abroad trips, and we make very good use of its abundant kitchens and common areas. The temperature control was nice too—I can’t imagine having my first college experience packed into a forced triple.

In sharp contrast to the London orientation, the Brandeis midyear orientation was a joke. We were chaperoned between an endless procession of presentations and forced to engage in awkward ice breakers. Frankly, we were treated like children. They even took attendance and threatened us if we tried to skip events. You want to know the craziest part? The London semester cost me less than half the price of a Brandeis semester, and we were allowed to do whatever we wanted in a house that was pretty much run by the students.

Midyears today are being stuffed in first-year housing and East. This is unacceptable. The Village environment allowed us to foster friendships among peers that we could relate to. It was a safe place from which to navigate our integration into the larger Brandeis community. Village housing was also like a consolation prize for being dealt a crappy admittance time. Now midyears are expected to integrate among the most hostile conditions imaginable. Hell, if the folks at Gravity Magazine harbored such a negative sense of midyears, imagine how everybody else views us.

Perhaps the admins see us midyears as easy pocket liners. Perhaps they think they can accept a hundred midyears and just stuff us anywhere if we choose to accept the terms. They should not be allowed to do that. My advice to new midyears: raise hell. Have your parents call and send forth a slew of angry emails. Slip letters under Liebowitz’s door and contact the admissions office and complain. Don’t let them forget about you. Most of all, get into contact with your fellow midyears and see if you can find some common ground. After all, each and every one of you has the prestige of being a dejected second pick! Being a midyear doesn’t have to suck, but Brandeis has to at least throw us a bone.

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