One Term Later...

by Mary Liza Hartong | 11/8/12 11:00pm

Ah, freshman fall. Oh, to be that young and naive! Now that I am nearly finished with the first term of my college experience, I feel I can finally look back on these long gone months with nostalgia and clarity. Much like Yoda, I have attained a kind of wisdom that only comes with age and good looks. True, it's only been nine weeks, but I think I am at least a little older and wiser.

Let's take a look at my pre-college self. Back in August, I was twiddling my thumbs and counting down the days until my exodus to what would surely be the closest thing to heaven in the continental United States: Dartmouth. My suitcases were filled to the brim with scratchy wool sweaters and mittens I'm from Tennessee, where you see snow as often as you see woolly mammoths. Visions of freedom danced in my head as I boarded the plane to this new world. Yet as different as I thought my new home would be, I never imagined myself becoming different in it.

I thought nothing was going to change. I would still go to bed by 9:30 p.m. and fastidiously make piles of note cards weeks before a test. I'd continue to eat balanced meals, make my bed every day and find time for my knitting.

If anything did change, however, it would be an improvement. I expected to come home at winter break not a new person, just a slightly cooler one who could throw around words like "FoCo" and "randos" with ease. Other than that, I would be no different from the girl who left three months before.

This illusion was shattered a few weeks ago when my parents came to town. They seemed determined to point out every shift that had occurred in me, in no uncertain terms.

"When I went out last night"

"You go out?" they gasped.

"The cookies at FoCo are so good! I had six yesterday."

"Isn't that unhealthy?"

As they got into their trendy hybrid rental car on the way to the airport, they made their final verdict.

"Our little girl has changed."

I was a little miffed to hear this. It's not like I've become some drunken bum or corpulent cookie monster. So my sleep schedule has changed give me a break. Maybe I haven't been consuming the recommended daily serving of vegetables, but who cares? Yet as I mentally argued my case, I realized that perhaps they were right. The fact that I now consider microwavable soup an acceptable meal is a testament to my transformation.

So who is this girl, and how did she get here? I think my freshman fall was a lot like "The Wizard of Oz." Like all freshmen, I was thrown into campus life as if propelled by a tornado. Suddenly, I found I was not in Tennessee anymore, and instead of ruby slippers I was outfitted with a pair of sturdy hiking boots. Fortunately, much like Dorothy, I quickly found mentors and companions. Off we went on the yellow brick road of freshman fall, encountering the Wicked Witch of midterms, the Emerald City of Homecoming and the Wizard of Red Bull. The only difference was, unlike Dorothy, I never found myself begging to go home. To be honest, I pretty much forgot home existed. Or maybe I didn't. Perhaps home became procrastinating with the Scarecrow, picking apples from talking trees and rolling in fields of poppies. In other words, somewhere along the road the yellow brick one, of course Dartmouth became home.

As winter break creeps closer, I have been forced to consider the fact that I will be leaving this home. Suddenly, making popcorn at 3 a.m. will no longer be exciting, but merely frustrating to my sleeping parents. My intellectual conversations will not be centered on the themes of Virginia Woolf's novels but instead on which variety of fried chicken is the best. Worst of all, I will not be a part of the thriving hive of wonderful people that make up Dartmouth.

I suppose I will catch up on my knitting and sleeping, trim my Christmas tree and eat a few nutritious meals. But fear not, dear old Dartmouth. I'll be catching the first tornado back here. After all, there's no place like home.