Saklad: Leap of Faith

Looking at Hanover from a Southerner’s perspective.

by Avery Saklad | 1/30/18 12:45am

Dartmouth likes to tout its commitment to providing opportunities for students to expand their horizons. From joining clubs to volunteering to interning, we’re constantly being recruited, mentored, probed to try anything new. While Dartmouth facilitates the discovery of different interests, for students like me, coming here was already a bound out of our comfort zones.

I spent my entire life in the South, so Hanover is the epitome of unfamiliar territory to me. Moving to Dartmouth has come with an abundance of small adjustments, not all of them entirely anticipated. For one, I get funny looks for calling a waitress “ma’am” here; wearing a hunting jacket draws a few stares, too. Drivers here decisively use established right-of-way rules at intersections rather than engaging in nonverbal waving conversations, vegetarians don’t have to read the ingredients on every diner menu item to make sure it’s not fried in bacon grease and it seems like everybody learned how to ski just about as soon as they mastered walking.

The most surprising adjustment, however, has also been the one for which I braced myself the most — cold weather. Back in North Carolina, my parents are enjoying temperatures ranging from the mid-50s on a particularly frigid morning to the mid-60s later in the day. I owned about five long-sleeve shirts in high school, reserved for the coldest days of the year, and I rarely needed a jacket. At home, I could be spontaneous and ill-prepared when I ran an errand, went for a jog or even walked to the mailbox. But at Dartmouth, leaving a building is an entire process that includes putting on boots and zipping up parkas and scurrying to my next (warm) destination.

I was shocked by the amount of snow I saw when I looked outside the window of the Dartmouth Coach to Hanover. As the bus crept farther north and the snow grew higher, I worried that I might freeze on the short walk to my dorm wearing only the light fleece that caused me to sweat on my way out of North Carolina. People back home had warned me about applying to schools so far up north; they told me it got cold enough to freeze spit before it hit the ground, crack skin beyond the repair of moisturizer and chip the ends of hair. I thought about stories I had discounted as hyperbolic, scare tactics even, and wondered if I had been ignorant when I imagined the New Hampshire winter from the comfort of my North Carolina home. Maybe only native northerners are equipped to manage the cold.

As I stepped off the bus into the first single-digit temperature day I had ever experienced, I was preparing myself to see firsthand all the horrors my family warned me about from the day I sent in my Dartmouth application. Yet the instant I got outside, all the worry that had plagued me during the two-hour bus ride from Boston dissipated. If people were bothered by the cold after stepping off the bus, they showed it by gently bouncing on their toes or keeping their hands buried in their pockets. Nobody sprinted for the warmth or shivered uncontrollably. Everybody just grabbed their luggage and wandered back to their dorms, and I strolled right alongside them. Dartmouth was the exact same as I had left it in the fall, just a little bit colder.

It turns out that even in the dead of winter, Hanover is exactly as habitable as Cary, North Carolina. Walking to class takes a little bit of forethought, and that first burst of cold air can be jarring but the small discomforts that accompany cold weather do nothing to make this campus any less hospitable than those in the South. In fact, we’ve got a few cold weather pleasures up here that they’re missing out on back home. The annual snowball fight on the Green, sledding down the golf course on Foco trays and snowshoeing up trails completely transformed by layers of ice and snow have been some of my best experiences at Dartmouth so far.

There is a lot left for me to learn about my new home up north, and I’m glad that I came here to make those discoveries. A lot of students back home kept their college searches local. While much of it had to do with family and money and the million other things you take into consideration when choosing a college, some of it definitely had to do with fear of a new territory. I was scared of leaving the South behind. I was scared I would miss my family, my friends, my home, my 50-degree Fahrenheit winters.

Coming to Dartmouth meant leaving what I knew behind, but it’s also meant the opportunity to create a new home and find things to love about it that I never would have expected. If I had made the decision to stay close to home, I would not have known how much I love hiking in the winter, running in the cold, flailing down a bunny hill on a snowboard and sledding. Leaving home isn’t the right choice for everyone, but the fear of a different environment should not be the one thing that stops you. College is about trying new things — why not new places, too? If the biggest step you take out of your comfort zone is also the first one, every step afterward won’t feel so daunting.