Kovary: Occupied With Off-Terms

The stress for success during off-terms ought to be avoided.

| 8/7/18 2:15am

The Dartmouth Coach slowed as it approached the curb of the Hopkins Center for the Arts, crushing the small remnants of snow beneath its tires. As I stepped off the bus, the sun speared its light through the clouds, and the slight breeze carried the faint fragrance of flowers. I took in a deep breath and I stood with hope, eager for the opportunity of a great spring term that lay ahead.

I cut through the Collis Center, venturing toward Gold Coast lawn, so that I could return to my room in Streeter Hall. Along the way, I saw many friends that I hadn’t seen since fall term, so I stopped to chat with them for a brief moment. Knowing that others were out and about trying to get ready for the term, I anticipated small talk. Every time I saw an old friend, the conversation would start off the same way: “Hey! How was your spring break?” or “How was your off-term, Ariela?” And of course, I replied with the conventional, “Good!” When asked about how I spent my off-term, I simply said I spent it doing yoga, meditation, reading and writing. The conversation would either progress to what they did with their past term or, if they were in a rush, they would depart with the standard, “Let’s grab a meal sometime.”

But with every encounter, I noticed a hesitancy in each person’s response after I said I spent my off-term doing yoga and meditating. The person’s face would construe itself into an expression of bewilderment. But the expression was fleeting because every person recomposed themselves and acknowledged that what I did was “cool.”

I soon realized that their facial expressions stemmed from an expectation that I didn’t fulfill, an expectation that plagues this campus’s culture: the standard of having an internship during every off-term.

At Dartmouth, everyone is expected to find an internship, a job, a role as an understudy, a position in a lab or something of the sort for their off-terms. Preparing for a future career at some impressive firm is supposed to start at matriculation. Students thus begin planning for their off-terms months in advance, ensuring that they are able to secure the best internship possible. While that in itself is not harmful, the stress and pressure that accompanies it is. In addition, some students cannot necessarily commit to or even have an interest in the socially desirable internships offered by financial firms or tech startups. What happens if that’s the case? Well, those people either have the option to stay on campus and work or to go home and work. But even the latter option can be unappealing. The specific type of job that a Dartmouth student partakes in during her off-term determines how “successful” that off-term was. An unpaid internship at a prestigious firm, for instance, is much more attractive to have than a paid job at a local convenience store. Besides, at the end of the day, it’s not about the pay — it’s about how haughty it looks on a resume.

All of this stress to succeed, of course, is a product of being an environment in which everyone is high-achieving and hyper-competitive. The average Dartmouth student will think they are below average. They will question their success and their ability to perform perfectly. These insecurities create the fallacy of “everyone else is thriving except for me.” Psychologists call this phenomenon “duck syndrome” — and Dartmouth students unfortunately suffer from it.

A recent College Pulse survey supports this. There are countless polls that ask about different past internships and internship experiences that students had. One question asked if the survey respondent could resonate with the following statement: “I feel pressure to secure a high-paying job/internship.” I was not astounded to find that, out of the 1,481 students who had taken the poll at press time, 40.5 percent of Dartmouth students “strongly agree” with the statement, and additional 41.6 percent “somewhat agree.”

It’s no surprise that when I said I did yoga and meditated on my off-term, many students responded with bewilderment. This is why, at first, I felt ashamed to share what I did on my off-term. But after being exposed to the same expression of disappointment over and over again, I couldn’t help but reflect about the insecurities that others may have too. I have come to terms with the fact that my off-term did not live up to Dartmouth’s expectations — but that’s okay. There is enough pressure on campus with trying to balance academics in addition to two jobs along with countless extracurricular activities. And deciding to turn my off-term into an actual “off term” is fine with me.