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I thought I knew exactly what to expect from my freshman fall. I had meticulously read the COVID-19 regulations, researched campus culture and tempered my idealistic visions into a pretty realistic picture of how the term would materialize. But Dartmouth has a way of throwing surprises at us. I hadn’t expected midnight CVS runs to be so crucial to my survival, nor to find such sheer joy in eating maple-flavored cotton candy.
The election is coming up, midterms are in full swing, the new season of “The Bachelorette” has started — oh, and it’s week six. At times it feels like the term is flying by, whether that means realizing we’re past the halfway mark and your professor still doesn’t know your name, or coming to terms with the fact that you’re never actually going to “catch up” on lost sleep.
Freshman fall is a strange time socially. Everything about high school was structured — you followed a rigid class schedule and knew who to sit with at lunch every day. But college throws you out into the world on your own. No one is there to wake you up in the morning, to double check your outfit before you head out the door or to remind you that you should probably eat something before 6 p.m. The transition can be overwhelming.
It’s fall in Hanover, and that can only mean one thing. No, not another Gile hike, foliage picture or apple picking trip — it’s election season. While November inches closer, political activity crescendos on campus for Dartmouth students, many of whom are registered to vote in New Hampshire. In the month leading up to Election Day, student political organizations start working overtime to canvas for their preferred candidates.
In most years, new students hoping to join one of Dartmouth’s performing arts groups attend in-person events and auditions. This year, since singing, dancing or breathing next to someone has become the stuff of nightmares, performance groups adapted their audition processes to work in a socially distanced way.
When I say that I used to sprint up four flights of stairs to beat an elevator full of people competing for my favorite study spot in Baker-Berry Library during finals period, I am not lying. The fourth floor became my home during my second term as a Dartmouth student. Embarrassingly out of breath from the climb, my friends and I would snag a circular table with an attached couch, plop our backpacks down and claim the spot as ours from 9 a.m. until midnight. We studied at the table, napped on the couch, crunched way too loudly on Novack’s pita chips and ran into the stairwell to burst into laughter when something was too funny to whisper about.
To make sense of COVID-19, we do what we’ve always done when studying emerging historical events — we compare. So naturally, I decided to investigate past disease outbreaks on Dartmouth’s campus.
In the age of COVID-19, we have often looked for comfort in generalizations. For instance, take the sentence you just read. Since March, our society has defined the current moment as a distinct “age” — novel and different from everything we knew before the pandemic. And to understand this bizarre time, we’ve relied on the most mundane of phrases. These are “unprecedented times.” We struggle through “an era of uncertainty.” We adjust to “the new normal.”
My last name is only four letters long, but I can think of far more than four different pronunciations that I’ve told people over the years. I recently discovered that my brother and I pronounce our last name differently. And no, it’s not that we don’t know how to say our last name correctly; it’s that we don’t know how to tell non-Chinese speakers how to say it in a way that’s not met with a blank stare and a “Come again?”
Now seems like an odd time for a dance club to be having a renaissance. However, the Dartmouth Classical Ballet Theater, a student group dedicated to offering free, inclusive dance classes, has emerged from this unusual year leaping higher than ever. Having extended its reach across the student body (with beautiful port de bras), DCBT is starting this year en pointe.
Where are you currently living?
Week four is always hectic with midterms, club tryouts, realizing it’s definitely time to wash your sheets and other timely reminders that we’re almost halfway through the term. Although this fall is obviously different, Dartmouth students — whether on or off campus — tend to find themselves in a similar state of overcommitment, teetering on the brink of having too few hours in the day to complete everything they have on their plates. And yet we manage to push through, albeit with fewer hours of sleep under our belts.
This week at Mirror, a student living off campus reflects on feeling like an outsider when visiting Dartmouth. We look at how a revived club, Dartmouth Classical Ballet Theater, is taking on the challenge of hosting virtual dance lessons. We also speak with our writers about how they’ve settled into the fall term.
The leaves are nearing their peak fall colors, plenty of the students living in Hanover have already hiked Gile Mountain and apple picking is in full swing. Week four is stressful, but the fall season is a beautiful distraction. We’ll get through this week, just like we have in terms past. If you need a break from studying, take a step outside and breathe in the crisp, fall air. You might just develop a new appreciation for the outdoors. Or you might have an epiphany about that essay you’ve been stuck on. Either works.
My home this fall is in Enfield, New Hampshire, about 20 minutes from campus. I’m part of the significant portion of students living locally off campus, a community that spans several towns scattered within a roughly 45-minute radius of campus.
For members of the Class of 2020, nothing about their departure from Dartmouth was ordered, especially with regard to their belongings.
Though the College prides itself on its small class sizes, there are certain courses that are in such great demand that they fill even the largest lecture halls. While Zoom has made such classes a bit more acceptable to the claustrophobic, courses like COSC 1, “Introduction to Programming and Computation” and ECON 1, “The Price System: Analysis, Problems and Policies” still feature well over one hundred students each. Another one of these giant courses is one that may come as a surprise: MUS 46/FILM 50.04/COLT 40.07, “Video Games and the Meaning of Life.” Although music professor William Cheng, who teaches the class, initially intended to hold the course as a seminar capped at 12 students, demand was so high that he ultimately admitted 223 students — and had to turn away a few dozen more.
A staple of the Dartmouth student experience during warmer months, the Hanover farmers’ market used to liven up Wednesday afternoons, transforming the Green into a hub to congregate, converse and of course, consume. I remember the festive feeling I would get upon hearing guitar strings and seeing white tents (which undoubtedly signal something different nowadays).
Starting college is scary enough without a pandemic looming in the background. During my own freshman fall I had a seemingly never-ending list of questions: How do I adjust to the fast-paced quarter system? Which clubs should I join? How do I meet new people? What’s “blobby,” and how do I get there? When those questions became too much to handle, I turned to other freshmen who shared my confusion. And soon enough, we all adjusted to life in the woods. We learned which classes to avoid, how to order Collis stir-fry and how to migrate in “shmobs” from the Choates to the Fayes on Wednesday and Friday nights.
For our generation, technology is second nature. We’re at least as comfortable gripping a laptop as a book, and thanks to auto-correct and iPhone calculators, our spelling and mental math skills have fallen by the wayside. The internet is where we seek information, entertainment and even connection. While older generations might not understand how we make friends or find love online, for many of us, virtual spaces form a real and robust world.
If you’ve seen any college food review TikToks, you’ll recognize the title of this article. NYU went viral near the end of August for its particularly egregious meal options for students in quarantine, including a whole lemon as a side dish and the infamous watermelon chicken salads served to vegetarians.
One of the few positive sides of the pandemic is that it’s helped us relearn to love the outdoors. The strict distancing guidelines in place to reduce COVID-19 transmission force us to plan any sizable gatherings outside. At Dartmouth, we’re blessed with beautiful natural surroundings, lots of green space and an institutional bent toward nature. However, we’re also blessed with somewhat tumultuous weather.