Trip Leaders: Wilderness Wisdom

by Alice Zhang | 9/26/18 2:10am

Ninety percent of Dartmouth students begin their four years bundled with a group of their soon-to-be classmates, camping in the woods, hiking amidst pleasant conversations, trying their hand at canoeing or making pizza at the Organic Farm. During Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips, students engage in their first interactions and form their first relationships of their time at Dartmouth.

To make this all possible, hundreds of Dartmouth students served as volunteers to help incoming students acclimate to Dartmouth’s culture. They interacted with the trippees, raiding them with pastries from King Arthur Flour and pranking them with Robert Frost’s ashes. However, the group that perhaps had the greatest influence on the trippees were their trip leaders.

Trip leaders have a particularly important job in shaping the incoming class’s initial perception of Dartmouth. The knowledge that they pass on to their trippees during First-Year Trips is the first advice new students hear about life at Dartmouth.

Shira Hornstein ’21 recalls a valuable lesson she learned while on her trip.

“Something that my trip leader told me on trips was [about] the whole Duck Syndrome,” Hornstein said.

It’s a syndrome that many of us have heard of going into Dartmouth. Above water, the duck looks calm as it glides across the lake, but it’s another story underneath the water as the duck paddles furiously to keep it afloat. It serves as a metaphor for the Dartmouth student. On the surface, it may seem like everything is going perfectly for everyone around, but look a little closer, and it is clear that everyone is dealing their own struggles, insecurities and concerns.

“Knowing that image going into Dartmouth, for some reason, was really helpful for me even if it didn’t cross my mind,” Hornstein said, “But sometimes I would feel like I’m the only one working really hard — how come everyone else has so much time?”

As she led her Horseback Riding trip this year, Hornstein made it a point to explain to her trippees about the Duck Syndrome.

“Dartmouth is an environment where there’s this feeling where everyone fails, and it’s okay for people to fail, but at the same time, it feels like nobody fails and everyone’s really cool … and perfect,” she said.

Hornstein said that telling her trippees about the social environment of Dartmouth was most important to her because she believes that for a lot of students, the social scene at the College is a greater concern than academics, as she believes that most students come to Dartmouth expecting academics to be difficult.

Matthew Frates ’22 participated on the horseback riding trip that Hornstein led. Since he is a veteran and a Posse Foundation Scholar, his experience coming into Dartmouth was different than most.

“I had already done a veteran’s orientation on campus, so I had already asked all my questions to the other veterans above me,” he said. “But I think in terms of the other trippes, they had a lot of great questions [about] day to day life that you’re not going to ask on the tour, you’re not going to ask the staff when you get here. It’s good to have someone who’s been here to bounce ideas off of.”

Frates said that the most influential pieces of advice concerned the “day to day” activities. He appreciated his trip leaders giving him and his fellow trippees advice on the “tips and tricks, hacks and stuff you can’t look up online.” Some of these tips included how to order food, how the meal swipes system works and where to get the best food on campus.

Since coming back to Dartmouth, Frates has noticed the effort that his trip leaders have put into giving him and his trippees a sense of community.

“They’re really trying to have us have a sense of home here, that we know someone automatically,” he said. “Some people may not make friends as well as others, so I think it’s really good to have that group coming in.”

Hornstein said that because this aspect of trips was particularly important to her last year when she first came to Dartmouth, she is making a special effort to allow her trippees to experience this same aspect.

“For the fall, it’s really nice to be able to say ‘hi’ to someone,” she said.

Serena Nanji-Totani ’21 similarly led a Hiking 2 trip earlier this year.

“Me and my trip leader were super relatable to the trippees,” she said. “We didn’t really act like leading figures, we sort of acted like one of them that just happened to have a bit more training.”

This aspect was very important to Nanji-Totani. She wanted the trippees to feel like her equals, and like there was not a sense of hierarchy.

“Me and my co-leader … were already very close, and we were just joking about each other and making mean comments as a joke, and I just think that made [the trippees] really comfortable to do it with us as well,” she said.

Nanji-Totani enjoyed the banter that resulted from the dynamic they set in place. She says that her trippees regularly “roasted” her and her co-leader.

She describes the specific actions she took on to make her trippees feel like her equals.

“I just really was honest with my trippees,” she said. “I didn’t pretend that I knew everything. If I didn’t know how much cheese to put in the mac and cheese I would ask them … I feel like being relatable to them is much better, because then they don’t get this false idea that everyone at Dartmouth is super outdoorsy or super responsible.”

Nanji-Totani firmly believes that the trip leaders are just students, and there shouldn’t be a feeling that the trip leaders are “better”.

According to the Dartmouth Outdoors Club website, Trips aims to “facilitate meaningful interactions between first-years and upperclassmen that will give students confidence in forging their own paths and identities while at Dartmouth.” For some trip leaders, that meant telling their trippees about the complexities of social life at Dartmouth, while for others it meant limiting or eliminating the social hierarchy within their own trips. Whatever the case, it is clear that the trip leaders worked hard to instill the mission of Trips into their trippees’ experiences.