Speaking with a master’s student ambassador is a great way to get a previous student’s perspective on the Language Schools graduate experience.

If you would like to connect with a student ambassador to ask questions, please contact Wendy Butler, School of Japanese Assistant Director, at japaneseschool@middlebury.edu.

Vanessa is a Japanese Ambassador for the Master's in Japanese.

Vanessa Kiefer

Hometown: Byron, Michigan

Program: Graduate Program

What surprised you about your experience at the Middlebury Language Schools?

I was really shocked at how fast I was able to learn and re-learn on campus. Before I joined the program, I hadn’t had much opportunity to use my Japanese for quite a while. So, unfortunately, I had forgotten a lot and gotten to where I was no longer used to just naturally speaking. I was honestly a little bit afraid of being able to function in class and on campus because of it!

Once I got on campus, I was met with a very supportive and understanding community of students and staff who worked together to make sure no one felt left behind. I graduated from a big university before this, so I really didn’t expect such a tight community. Once I left campus, I nearly forgot that I had fallen a bit behind in my language skills before arriving. I really felt like I was back to my peak with the language and I am so grateful for that.

Why did you choose to study at the Middlebury Language Schools?

Middlebury has been sort of a thing of legend for me since I first started learning languages at the university level. I had always heard that the language education here is top class. At first, I was debating between the immersion and graduate program because I realized how much I was forgetting. I’ve studied several languages in the past and for most of them I don’t think I remember enough to even be able to introduce myself to someone. I studied Japanese for about 6 years since starting college and I thought it would be a shame to forget a language I had really invested into like that. When I did more research on the graduate program, I saw that it was pretty short and that the cost was very attainable for me and that the financial aid prospects were pretty good, not to mention the teaching experience being a major plus. I figured I had nothing to lose and just went for it!

Please describe how your language skills improved due to your studies at Middlebury.

I had gotten very rusty with my language skills before this. While I retained a good amount of them, I really wasn’t confident in conversation at the time of enrolling. Well, getting on campus was the ultimate escape from my comfort zone! Even after the first week I felt like I had totally turned myself around and was on my way to not only regaining my skills, but improving upon where I was when I was at my best. I went from struggling through describing my daily routine to walking through a lesson plan about environmental issues just by the end of the summer. It was surreal!

Off campus I try to surround myself with the language as much as I can even outside of class. I try to learn new grammar and words from sources written in Japanese instead of English. I listen to podcasts and YouTube videos in Japanese while I clean. When I studied Western Armenian, my professor gave me advice to try and narrate my day in my target language as much as I can, so I’ve carried that over to my Japanese learning as well. I try to truly think in Japanese as I go through my day. My opportunities for conversation outside of class are few and far between, so I really do my best to make the most of technology I have at hand.

Is there anything else that you would like to let a student know about your experience? For example, what is something that no one told you or you didn’t expect?

As someone who graduated with a STEM major, I feel like I came into this program from a different background than a good number of my peers. Don’t feel like you have to be a Japanese major or fully fluent to succeed and get the most out of this program! I came in really rusty in terms of my skills and having very little experience in Japan. I had some catching up to do, but I never was made to feel like I would be left behind or that I couldn’t succeed here.

The teaching staff and student community are so supportive. Even if you doubt yourself, they will come together to help you when you need it! In this program, you WILL be busy but you will also have an incredible amount of fun along the way. Just be ready to do your best and go with the flow! The program has been very rewarding for me and I very highly recommend giving it a try.