TTLG: Uncovering Hidden Gems

by Jennifer West | 7/13/18 2:20am

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Jennifer West believes in the importance of connections based on stories.

Source: Courtesy of Jennifer West

 As I look out across Dartmouth’s campus each day, I see hundreds of high school students and their families trailing a tour guide across the Green. These students will undoubtedly hear about all of Dartmouth’s “hidden gems” — the Shakespeare’s First Folio that we keep in Rauner, the “take your professor to lunch date” that turned into a research opportunity, the awesome concert at One Wheelock with a finalist from “The Voice,” and so on. But most of those students will never get to experience the real hidden gems of Dartmouth.

Throughout my past two years on this campus, I’ve come to understand that most of our interactions with each other happen during the in-between space of our days. We rush to class and stop to say “hi” to a friend in the middle of the Green or on first floor Berry. We tap on the shoulder of the person in front of us in the KAF line, who puts down their phone, and we talk for the seemingly endless amount of time it takes to make an iced chai. We see our friends in Greek house basements or in upstairs rooms, where it’s too loud to even hear what the other person is saying. We go in for a hug, compliment each other’s flair (“What was your theme? Unicorn tails? Oh my gosh, that’s super cute.”) and fade away into the crowd.

At Dartmouth, we have to carve out time for the meaningful. The old adage, “Let’s get a meal” is a symptom of a greater disease ­— that because we are so busy and live our lives in the in-between, we have to consciously plan out times to connect with people on deeper levels. And outside of the Dartmouth bubble, this problem is just as real — with all of the constraints on our time, and the overpowering sense that everyone else is always living their lives in a more fulfilling/exciting/insert-adjective-of-your-choice here way, we relegate our friendships and our relationships to the in-between.

But my favorite parts of Dartmouth are the times when we push through that in-between and unfold ourselves to each other. Although these moments are uncomfortable, they have been some of the most meaningful to me. They have truly been the hidden gems of my Dartmouth experience.

In a new member meeting for my sorority last winter, we played the “36 Questions” game made famous by the New York Times’ Modern Love section. The idea of the game is that each person playing answers 36 questions about their families, their goals and other personal aspects of their lives. The psychological research grounding the game claims that the phenomenon of “personal self-disclosure” can create a connection, or a sense of affection, between two people.

So each of the new members, plus our three new member educators, sat around our meetings room and answered the 36 questions. The questions start at a surface level — asking who your dream dinner guest would be, describing your perfect date, questioning whether you would want to be famous. As we answered each question, I challenged myself to think less about my own answers in order to pay closer attention to what everyone else is saying.

As we moved on, the questions became more probing. We asked ourselves what we would want to see if we looked into a crystal ball. We questioned if we would change anything about our lives if we knew that we only had a short time to live. We thought about our most treasured and our most terrible memories.

And so we talked. Members of three different classes, from different countries, with different perspectives, all came together to share stories from our journeys to this little spot in the middle of the woods. We talked about our parents, our majors and our relationships. Some were stories of joy and love, others of tragedy and disappointment. Some were relatable to me. Others were far from it. And some people talked eagerly, sharing detailed accounts of past experiences, while others gave one-word answers or hesitated before speaking.

I’m still skeptical of the idea that answering those 36 questions can actually make people fall in love with each other. But I do think that what we did that day was valuable and important. On a campus full of in-betweens, we made time to sit and share stories. And in doing so, we discovered some of each other’s hidden gems.

So, in realizing that sophomore summer is nearly halfway over, I urge everyone to strive to show each other their hidden gems. Invite us to your a capella shows, talk to us about your research, share your favorite — or least favorite — experiences from your study abroad. And go deeper — tell us more about yourself. What is your earliest childhood memory? If you had a plane ticket anywhere in the world, where would you go? What song always makes you cry?

I’ll start. My favorite TV show is “Parks and Recreation.” I have attended not one, not two, but three Taylor Swift concerts. I have basically no hand-eye coordination and can’t hit a baseball to save my life. When I was younger, I wanted to be a comedian, and I used to practice saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” into a hairbrush in my bedroom. I’ve always wanted to visit the pyramids in Giza, Egypt. I don’t know what I’m doing with my next off term. I also don’t know what I want to do with my life.

Those are some my hidden gems. What are yours?