The Unique Transition into College

Dartmouth College hosts a freshman trip that is quite different from most college freshman orientations

Editor’s Note—Danny Katz has been a Patch columnist for the past year writing about issues important to student and the rest of the community. This is his last column written from his freshmen orientation trip at Dartmouth College. Good luck, Danny.

I woke up the morning of August 28 and instantly thought, "last night was the last time I will sleep in my own bed for the next nine months."

Only my dog and my mother accompanied me to the airport, where I would be flying to my new home. My first year of college has officially begun.

Dartmouth has a very unique orientation program in which over 98 percent of freshman choose to participate. The Dartmouth Outing Club (D.O.C.) is a club that hosts trips of all sorts throughout the year for students. These trips include varieties of hiking, biking, canoeing, and lots of other exciting and adventurous outings of varying difficulties.

As part of an optional (but ridiculously popular) pre-orientation, the D.O.C. offers a 5-day trip for all freshmen. These recently admitted students can prefer certain trips, but not everyone received their first choice. When I received the email telling me which trip I was on, I was thrilled.  I would be hiking between five and ten miles per day along the Appalachian trail for five days.  

Of the approximate 1100 freshman in the Class of 2016, students are broken into groups of seven to ten, assigned two trip leaders and set off on the trips day by day between August 22 and 31.  

The first night of my trip was spent packing all the camping supplies—food, tarps and stoves—and learning everything we will need to know to live in the wilderness for the next four days.  

"Once we leave, we're on our own until the final day," my head trip leader, Trevor Horan, a rising senior at Dartmouth, said.

At First, It Felt Like Camp

At this point, the experience felt extremely similar to camp and everyone around me was getting the same feeling. Each hiker in my group carried an enormous pack with 20 to30 pounds of clothing, food and equipment.

While unique, I think this helps many of the freshman meet each other, get to know each other and get comfortable around a ton of new people outside of the classroom.  

The first night was spent at the indoor track and at 5:45 a.m. we were awaken to begin our hike.

The scheduled journey for the first day was 3.6 miles to the peak of Mt. Cube, then 1.6 miles down to a cabin where we would stay.  The hike up was strenuous, but everyone managed to make it with no problems and the view was beyond spectacular—360 degrees around showed mountains along the Appalachian Trail for miles. After a few hours at the summit, we began our descent to the base of Mt. Smarts.  

When we arrived, we decided to go above and beyond the schedule and trek an additional 5.6 miles to the peak of mountain.

The Challenge Increases

We all knew it would be a challenge, but everyone was up for it. We ate a few snacks, drank a bit of water, and headed up the trail. At this point I had spent less than 24 hours with my trip group, and we all had already felt like best friends. Dartmouth had already done an incredible job at introducing me to a potential group of friends for life.  

We hiked the additional 5.6 miles for a grand total of nearly 11 miles climbing up and down mountains, which luckily took a great deal off the next day. We finished the next two days with confidence and spent a ton of time playing games, talking about our hometowns and becoming an exceptionally close group of friends.

Many Dartmouth students, recent and aged, say that most of the freshman trip friends remain friends for life, and I definitely see that happening with the group of kids I have spent the past four days living with in the wilderness.

On the last day of our hike, we connected with all of the trips that ended on the same day. We were greeted by tons of hikers and trip leaders, with music and cheering ringing through my ears. We all ran through a tunnel of enthusiastic rising freshman and there are no other words to describe this experience besides “camp.” 

Throughout this trip, nerves were calmed, friends were made, and everyone became tremendously excited for school to start. What Dartmouth did with this trip is unique among a select number of schools around the country, but I hope that more schools introduce and encourage a trip like this because it definitely helped me embrace the transition between high school and college.

“I’m Completely on My Own.”

On this last day of my trip, my leaders are about to let me go and I’m finally experiencing the biggest change in college.  I’m completely on my own and it’s finally happening to me firsthand. This first college experience has been unbelievable and unique. I hope my peers along with younger students can have as easy a transition as I had entering college.

As I finish my last article for Deerfield Patch, I encourage every current and future Deerfield High School student to make the best of high school. For me, it’s over and there is no going back.

I’m entering the next level of the game of life and it’s time Deerfield and I depart. Maybe for only four or eight years and maybe forever.  For all of you out there who have been reading, I thank you.

I’m currently heading off on my own, beginning my new life, making new friends, studying the most intense and rigorous classes of my life and determining my unique future that I, among my parents, family and close friends are quite excited to see where it leads.

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