The Novelty of Returns

by Caroline Berens | 6/30/16 6:32pm

Few life transitions are as immense as the shift from high school to college. Suddenly, your parents — and the curfews, restrictions and rules (if you’re already 18 by the time you matriculate) that often accompany them — are gone. You’re living in a new room in a new place with thousands of new people. Your schedule is often much less regimented than it was in high school, and it’s okay if you sleep through class or go to bed at 5 a.m. In many ways, it’s like stepping into a new, unfamiliar world.

This is often referred to as the “novelty” of college. For me, at least, this novelty wore off toward the end of my freshman fall. I soon became accustomed to eating mozzarella sticks at 1 a.m., to experiencing the bizarre but wonderful privilege of living within such close proximity to my friends, to being done with class for the day at 12:20 p.m. All of these once-foreign things became a part of my normal routine, and I adapted. They became less of a novelty and part of my lifestyle.

Two years into college, it’s hard to imagine experiencing the same level of “novelty” as I did when I first arrived in Hanover. However, sophomore summer brings with it a unique kind of novelty: it’s just ’18s on campus, we’re suddenly the only class in everything from our Greek houses to a cappella groups and our “school” suddenly transforms into a more camp-like environment than any of the actual summer camps I attended as a child. It’s the same Dartmouth I’ve always attended, of course, but at least for me, it’s a bit like stepping into a new dimension.

So I wanted to determine: how does the novelty of freshman fall compare to that of sophomore summer? Are the “novelties” different? Can they even be compared?

Julia Decerega ’18 opined that the typical novelty of freshman fall of college is amplified at Dartmouth due to the Dartmouth Outing Club’s First-Year Trips, since they often entail completely new and foreign experiences for students.

“Definitely here, with Trips, it’s very much a novelty,” Decerega said. “You do something most people have never done before. I had never hiked before, or gone camping, so that was all very new to me.”

She explained that the five-day Trips experience is totally immersive, complete with numerous performances and the opportunity to meet and receive advice from upperclassmen. She said that in this way, Dartmouth prepares students for the novelty of college especially well, particularly in getting them excited about it.

“Right when you get here, you have built-in role models, which isn’t super common,” Decerega said. “Dartmouth does an especially good job [with preparing students for freshman fall].”

Dru Falco ’18 expressed a similar sentiment and said that for her, Trips was unlike anything she had ever done before. She agreed, too, that Trips offers something unique from other colleges.

Falco also said that a good Trips experience can help ease the transition into the novelty and craziness of freshman fall.

“After a positive Trips experience, people retain that feeling,” Falco said. “It can positively impact your freshman fall; it’s really exciting to come off that kind of high from trips.”

She noted, though, that a negative trips experience might pessimistically impact one’s freshman fall — or simply might have no impact at all.

Decerega said the freedom afforded to students during their first few weeks of orientation at Dartmouth lends to the novelty of college. And then of course, when freshman fall truly begins, reality sets in that this is life for the next four years.

Falco said that the most novel aspect of her freshman fall was her newfound autonomy.

"There’s definitely a lot of novelty freshman fall in that you’re on your own, responsible for your actions and making your decisions,” she said.

Natalie Chertoff ’18 spoke similarly about students’ independence and accountability.

“The responsibility of getting myself up and to class every single morning, and having nobody there to tell me what to do, definitely made it a novel experience,” Chertoff said.

Danny Reitsch ’16 said that college’s foreign and even unpredictable nature can also contribute to this sentiment.

"You have no idea what’s around the corner, and it’s novel in the sense that everything is new and abnormal,” he said.

Falco also noted that freshman fall is sometimes the first time that students drink alcohol or party.

Decerega said that sophomore summer is also novel, in that it’s the first time it’s solely your class on campus, many students are living off-campus or in Greek houses and when you walk around campus, you tend to know or recognize almost everybody.

“Sophomores kind of own the campus, and feel good about themselves because they do,” Decerega said. “That’s something students at other colleges have to wait until senior year to experience.”

Chertoff echoed Decerega’s statement about knowing more people when walking around campus. She also said it often feels less like school and more like she’s just spending time hanging out with friends.

Chertoff also noted that because departments tend to offer fewer classes over the summer, students sometimes experience academic novelty, because they often take a class in a subject with which they aren’t very familiar.

Falco also said people are more apt to branch out over their sophomore summer than during the regular year.

“A lot of people are motivated to try new things over sophomore summer,” Falco said.

Even though some might argue that sophomore summer isn’t too different from a regular term, Chertoff said the shift felt distinct to her.

“Even though you’re coming off of a term of college, it still felt new,” Chertoff said. “It requires more getting used to than other terms in sophomore year.”

Decerega thought differently, saying that besides the weather, things are mostly the same during the summer as a normal term, since you’ve already spent two years here and are very familiar with life at Dartmouth.

Chertoff noted, though, that her adjustment to freshman fall was much more difficult than the transition to sophomore summer. She said they are both novel in that they entail a lot of new things all at once, but that her attitude towards both differed greatly.

She explained that although she was excited for freshman fall, she remembered feeling mostly nervous. Her sentiments toward sophomore summer were much more positive.

“Freshman fall, I felt like I had to figure it all out on my own, and I couldn’t really be excited about the term until I established a routine,” Chertoff said. “Sophomore summer, I feel much more comfortable on campus and know I have a good group of friends.”

Reitsch said that during his sophomore summer, he had more free time and alone time, which engendered self-growth and helped him develop a better sense of who he is.

“It made me rely on myself a lot more,” Reitsch said.

Falco and Decerega expressed similar sentiments about feeling more established at the College.

“By sophomore summer, you’ve gotten much more used to Dartmouth and happier to be here,” Decerega said.

Falco said that although she enjoyed her freshman fall, she doesn’t consider it as her favorite term, largely because she had yet to feel grounded.

“There’s a lot of transitioning freshman fall, and I didn’t really feel like I’d found my place at Dartmouth,” Falco said.

Her freshman fall felt hectic as she figured out what activities she wanted to try out. Going into sophomore summer, she said, she has a better idea of how she wants to spend her time.

Reitsch believes freshman fall is about exploring one’s environment, whereas sophomore summer is about finding new aspects of oneself.

“Rather than the external novelty of freshman fall, sophomore summer was more of an internal discovery,” Reitsch said.

Ultimately, people expressed that although freshman fall was somewhat exhilarating, by the start of their sophomore summer they felt much more grounded — but were still willing to embrace the novelty that the term brings.

"Freshman fall, it felt like my parents were dropping me off at this random place that had accepted me. I felt like an outsider,” Chertoff said. “But coming back for the summer, it felt like I was returning to a place I have started to make my home.”