If you asked me to make a list of my favorite things about Dartmouth, it would be pretty generic: the passionate students and Professors, the collaborative and engaging academic environment, swimming in the river, drinking iced coffee from KAF, etc. As I approach the start of my senior year, however, I’ve realized how many smaller, often-overlooked things about our school I’ve also come to appreciate. One of those things is how little separation or division there is between the different class years. By the end of my freshman year, I remember being surprised by how many upperclassmen I had developed relationships with, and one of the most valuable parts of my time at Dartmouth since then has been getting to know the younger classes.
There are probably a lot of reasons for how well-integrated the class years are– the small student body and (for better or worse) the prevalence of the Greek system are two that come to mind– but I have no doubt that the trips program plays a monumental role in this as well. Each year, hundreds of students devote weeks of their lives just to welcome the incoming class, and the result is one of the most friendly and open times at Dartmouth. I don’t mean to put the program on a pedestal– I fully realize that it’s not for everyone, and that people from certain backgrounds have inherently greater access to enjoyment of the outdoors– but, in my experience, it carries enormous potential for relationship building.
I don’t remember too much about how I felt going into my trip, but I’ll never forget how I felt when I got back to campus after it was over. I remember having to walk somewhere alone after the bus got back– maybe to go to the bathroom, maybe to pick up my cell phone– and feeling totally at ease, like I was home. That doesn’t mean I never felt out of place or uneasy during my freshman fall, but in that moment, right at the peak of post-trips euphoria, I didn’t have a single worry. This was because of the effort put in by my trip leaders and all the other trips volunteers to make me and the rest of my class feel at home.
Trips has only become more important to me since that fall. My friendships with my trip leaders were a huge part of my freshman and sophomore years, and two of my trippees remain among my favorite people at Dartmouth today. That’s why I’ve been a trip leader every year since then. Whether it’s attempting to set up a campground in the pouring rain, basking in the late summer sun, sharing meaningful personal stories, or entertaining my trippees (and embarrassing myself) with my erratic sleep talking, trips has been a time for me to bond with amazing people without having to be anyone other than my full, authentic self. Emphasis on that last part– you don’t have to be the outdoorsiest or most extroverted person to enjoy trips– just yourself. Trust me: sophomore year, my flatwater kayaking co-leader and I challenged our trippees to throw their paddles in the air and see how many times they could clap their hands before catching it. This terrible idea of ours caused someone to capsize and get all our camping supplies wet, and it’s now used as an example of what not to do in trip leader training each year. At the same time though, it was okay, because trips isn’t about proving yourself or avoiding mistakes. It’s about beautiful nature, friendly people, delicious food, and meaningful, even if nonsensical, memories.