Coming Home: '21s reflect on winterim

by Jaden Young | 1/3/18 2:04am

Winterim is a beast of a break. At six weeks long, it can feel drawn-out, especially for first-year students coming off of their inaugural 10 week term. It’s also the first chance many of those students get to reunite with family and friends from home after a long term immersed in Dartmouth.

We talk a lot about the Dartmouth “bubble,” the cultural echo-chamber we all enter when confined to Hanover for the better part of three months. Sometimes it’s not until you leave the bubble that you get a chance to reflect upon how much 10 weeks can change you and the people and places you used to know.

Reuniting with pals sometimes means adjusting to new realities about old friendships. Physical distance, the creation of new friend groups and the cessation of shared experiences can test even the closest of relationships.

Tamara Gomez-Ortigoza ’21 recognized those differences as inevitable. “I don’t feel like the friendship is ruined — its a natural distance,” she said. “I don’t see my friendships ending.”

Gomez-Ortigoza didn’t go home to Miami for interim, but she did visit with friends going to school elsewhere in the Northeast.

“They all changed a lot,” she said. “College changed them, I think. They have a clearer view of what they want to do with their lives now that they’ve had independence for the first time.”

She recognized that they likely saw the same changes in her.

But in one case, the change in a friend was too great. That friend, who Gomez-Ortigoza said she wasn’t particularly close with in the past, had developed new, more extreme religious beliefs since they had last met.

“I felt very distant from her,” Gomez-Ortigoza said. “Every conversation I tried to start, she would either become very aggressive or start turning it toward religion. I felt uncomfortable, and I know that I’m probably not going to keep in touch with her as much in the future.”

Hannah Lang ’21 got the chance to reunite with high school classmates who went to school farther away from her hometown but felt a different kind of distance between them.

“It was all people that I knew so well like six months ago, except I haven’t really talked to most of them and we’ve all had separate experiences since,” Lang said.

She and her best friend made the most of the long break by reconnecting on a week-long Canadian road trip.

“When you Skype people, you kind of have to share just the highlights, so it was nice to have the time to talk like we used to,” she said.

Their time together made Lang realize just how much her friend had grown in her first term.

“I feel like she’d become a little bit more independent,” Lang said. “She goes to college a lot farther away from home so she had to figure out a lot more by herself. When her bike got stolen, she had to figure out how to contact security, how and where to get a new bike and she had to deal with stuff like that all by herself.”

Although spending time with his family was his first priority, Isaiah Martin ’21 found himself valuing his time at a get-together for his small high school class.

“There were people that I didn’t really talk to much in high school, but I was really happy when I saw them just because it’s been a while and I realized I spent four to six years with them and it was nice seeing a familiar face,” he said.

Martin noted that his friends, too, seemed more mature, more grown-up after the time away.

“We’re all doing our own things now, and it’s kind of hard to maintain the same friendship we had in high school,” he said.

For Gomez-Ortigoza, Lang and Martin, revisiting old friendships emphasized just how much a term can change, but in reuniting with their families, each met a comforting familiarity, with some learning to reconcile old family dynamics with newfound independence.

Lang ’21 didn’t have far to go when fall term ended. Her family lives 30 minutes from campus and had visited during the term, but the six-week break felt different.

“Ihad decided that I wasn’t going to come home a lot during the term,” she said. “I didn’t want home being nearby to keep me from making friends. But during the break I could actually relax. When I came home during the term, I was either sick or I had a bunch of homework to do.”

When her mother came to visit, Gomez-Ortigoza realized just how comfortable she had gotten with being on her own.

“It was weird to go back into that dynamic of not being completely autonomous,” she said.

After a death in his family during fall term Martin was struck by how quickly things could change, and was eager to make the most of his time at home with family.

“The next time I see them could be in three or to six months.” he said. “I realized I won’t really be seeing them consistently anymore, so I really valued the time I had with them.”

And Martin’s family was equally happy and proud to see him returning from college — especially at first.

“Towards week five or six they noticed that I was still kind of kid-like, and didn’t make up my bed or anything — they got kind of tired of me,” he said. “But they were very loving, and it was kind of like I valued them more — they kept wanting to take me out and make sure I was comfortable at home because they knew I wouldn’t be there for long.”

When Martin returned to his elementary school to visit teachers and speak to a class, he was struck by how much his time there had shaped him into who he is now.

“[It] was really inspiring to see younger kids that look up to me,” he said. “It made me think of myself when I was in their shoes and how much I’ve grown up. Going back home, you get a better sense of who you are and a chance to think about your childhood and how you got to who you are today.”

Martin’s advice to the elementary class?

“Surround yourself with the right people.” Martin said. “That’s what I’ve learned in high school and college.”

As the ’21s return to campus, they still have another sort of reunion to grow accustomed to; at a school where the D-Plan exists, students may not see friends for multiple terms, so they will have to learn the art of picking up right where they left off with the friends they made in the fall.

“After such a long break, it feels a little like a beginning again,” Gomez-Ortigoza said.