It’s Not Perfect, But it’s Home
After struggling to adjust to Dartmouth winters and stressors during his first year, one writer finally feels ready to call Dartmouth home.
This article is featured in the 2022 Freshman special issue.
When I applied to Dartmouth, I imagined it as an idyllic little haven, a place far removed from the trials and tribulations of my Florida high school. I filled my head with ideals of a picturesque little college, one where I could finally experience things like falling leaves or the stark beauty of winter. Without much else to do during the doldrums of quarantine, I threw myself into researching every little detail about the school until I was absolutely certain it was the place I belonged. When decisions finally came out, I was on cloud nine: Come September, I would finally get to experience my new life in Hanover.
And at first, it really was perfect. Those first few weeks of fall were like constant euphoria, a blur of meeting new people over s’mores at Collis or down by the river or even at an impromptu party in the Choates. As we adjusted to our new home, we spent our days going swimming and hiking, excited by the novelty of Dartmouth. I finally got to experience my first autumn, even though I probably looked stupid jumping in piles of leaves. In most ways, fall term went by for me without a hitch.
A lot of those original imaginings still hold true: Dartmouth is a beautiful place, and I’m grateful that I’m still close with a lot of the friends I’ve made. But of course, I was wrong in a lot of ways too. Dartmouth isn’t perfect. Yes, I was thrilled to witness the changing leaves, to meet so many new people in fall and to finally experience the thrill of living an independent life away from home. But at times, I was also cold, miserable and stressed. I was faced with imposter syndrome and sometimes homesickness, and I was absolutely clueless about what I wanted to study.
Especially once winter arrived, I considered transferring somewhere warmer, or bigger or closer to home. I thought about it so often my parents started calling me “Mr. Rogers” — who attended Dartmouth from 1946 to 1948 before transferring to Rollins College in sunny Orlando. While I was initially eager to leave Florida and live somewhere new, I suddenly felt the incredible distance from home and wondered why I had chosen to go somewhere over a thousand miles away.
For a lot of you incoming freshmen, a snowy winter may be no big deal, but coming from a place where the sun never sets before 5:30, I struggled to handle it. I staved off the seasonal depression with afternoons skating on Occom Pond and weekends skiing, but the dark and frigid weather of New Hampshire still took a toll. It also didn’t help that, as it always seems to, a bout of mystery illness swept campus around the middle of the term — the kind of body-aching, shivering, knocked-out-for-a-couple-days sick that only made us more tired of winter.
All of this isn’t to be overly pessimistic or discourage the incoming class, which is hopefully bright with the same zeal I carried through fall term. Dartmouth wasn’t exactly what I expected; it was a whole lot more difficult. I struggled to adapt, not just to the temperatures but to my new way of life in college. But it’s also incredible how far I’ve come in the year since last September: I’ve experienced so many new things and met friends I now consider some of the closest I’ve ever made. I wouldn’t call freshman year an easy affair, but right alongside every challenge or homesick day is a memory I know I’ll treasure far past graduation.
At many times I questioned my decision to go to Dartmouth, but after a summer away — the longest I’ve been gone since we started in September — I think I recognize that Dartmouth really does hold a special place in my heart. As easy as it is to feel down about yet another snowfall in April, I’ve realized how much I miss the people I met and places that I got to see over the past year.
So, I guess I have some advice for the Class of 2026. The bottom line is that everyone faces challenges in college, and much like the shock of experiencing my first true New England winter, Dartmouth might not live up to your expectations in every way. If you’re anything like me, you might worry too much about your major or what to do on break when it seems like everyone is plastering their latest internship all over their LinkedIn. You might be upset when you eat it yet again going down some icy stairs or don’t do as well on that midterm as you hoped. But for every one of those moments, there will be another where you share a meal at Foco with your best friends or relax on the Green enjoying the sunshine.
I know that as my sophomore year approaches, I’ll probably face a whole new host of challenges. Am I careening towards more stressful nights studying in Sanborn? Probably. But I also know that in only four weeks I’ll be reunited with my friends in the place that is now my second home. In spite of the difficulties I faced my freshman year, as I spend some time away from Dartmouth I am only more and more excited to return come fall and experience it all over again. I hope that all of us, freshmen and upperclassmen alike, can approach this term with the same excitement.