Ten Tools for Survival at Dartmouth
Though survival at Dartmouth takes no clear-cut path, certain “tools” are universal, even if they manifest themselves differently for each of us. They often range from the mundane to the bizarre, from the obvious to the not-so-obvious.
This one speaks for itself. Our academic course loads are so heavy and our social and extracurricular commitments so numerous that we all encounter those moments when we’re just trying to stay afloat. Some of us manage to take everything in stride, but some of us lose sight of our worth and sink into anxiety. It is during these times that we realize individualistic notions of self-reliance can only take us so far, because our confidence and well-being are contingent upon our relationships with others.
2. Alone Time
We can’t surround ourselves with people all the time. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, it’s hard to escape to the city and blend in with the crowd in a place as isolated as Dartmouth. No matter where we go, we’re almost always bound to stumble into someone we know. We’re social creatures, to be sure, but there are times when we’ll slip into a misanthropic stupor, desperate for the breathing space that Dartmouth’s nature cannot always provide. So it’s up to us to find that space — perhaps by waking up a few minutes earlier to read that novel we haven’t found the time to read, or taking a long walk outside to focus solely on ourselves. Regardless, in a community that constantly encourages us to strike a balance between academics and social life, we must be careful not to neglect those aspects of identity which are nurtured not by school or by friends, but by hindsight, reflection and solitude.
3. A Strong Liver
Precisely because our community forms and unfolds away from city life, we have only a limited amount of social activities. After all, there are only so many Lou’s challenges and hiking activities and gelato runs we can make before we start seeking a bit more buzz. Our recourse? The frats.
The Dartmouth community overflows with ethnic and religious diversity, and thus offers us a wide gamut of perspectives that we may have never encountered at home and, as a consequence, may redefine our beliefs on a daily basis. We learn something new in every lecture we sit through and every conversation we partake in, but only when we care to look. Slowly but steadily, all these new details accumulate in our knowledge base to complicate our existing worldviews and, by extension, our understanding of who we are. To survive at Dartmouth, we must approach each day with the understanding that knowledge is never absolute and that identity is always fluid, changing each day by the detail.
5. A Fluid Identity
Depending on how one looks at it, this is at once promising and appalling. Many of us internalize the demands of Dartmouth as the standards to which we constantly hold ourselves accountable. We expect ourselves to maximize our potential in all areas of our life, be it academic, social or job-related. But to succeed on all fronts, we must be ready to put on a performance, to oscillate constantly and simultaneously between different versions of ourselves. We must showcase honesty in our relationships to form close bonds, dedication in our schoolwork lest we fall short in our aspirations and maturity during job interviews lest we lose a job offer to a better performer. And so we carry on in this manner day after day, constructing and alternating between different selves, until one day, during the late hours of the night, our various selves flash before us one by one until we lose all sense of coherence. So we rummage through our pasts in search of the face behind our masks, only to realize that our faces are the masks and that authenticity is the performance.
This is when only a certain type of insanity can enable our survival — an insanity marked by either willful self-deception or psychopathic acceptance. We must either close our eyes and wake up the next day convinced that our identity is permanent despite its constant mutations, or exploit our ability to transition between selves.
We often take this one for granted, until we lose our frackets and have to walk back to our rooms in the cold. Studying and friendships and obligations aside, jackets here are a basic necessity for survival.
Speaking from experience, the recommended eight hours of sleep a day is an impossible ideal at Dartmouth, and I admire those who manage to fulfill it. So we resort to caffeine, but there comes a point when even five shots of espresso a day won’t stop the evening slumber, and when any increase thereafter will not make you less tired, only more jittery. This is when 15 minute naps come in handy. The best part? You don’t need to rush back to your dorm for a nap — the couches in Sanborn or the Tower room are made for just that.
9. The News
It’s easy go so caught up in the commitments and stress of the Dartmouth bubble that we forget about the world beyond Dartmouth. Keeping up with the news, then, helps us remind ourselves that we’re still part of the social problems around us, and to stay connected with a world in a community whose isolated nature is bound to hoard our attention.
10. Foco Cookies
If all else fails, resort to Foco cookies — for the sugar rush, the guilty pressure and most importantly, the gesture of capitalist resistance.