I wouldn’t call myself “one with nature.” I’m not really good at knowingly having dirt on me for any significant length of time, and the most terrified I’ve ever been was after hearing the “you’re never further than seven feet from a spider” factoid (which I’d like to think is a poor joke aimed at only the most gullible). However, getting an extended breath of fresh air is something that even the least outdoorsy of college students can benefit from once in a while, and it can be especially fulfilling if you do it right.
In the wake of an over-stimulating, “hi-hello-what’s your spirit animal”-filled orientation week, a moment away from campus and the onslaught of small talk was a beautiful prospect. This was something I had anticipated before even arriving at Wesleyan, and in an effort to recreate some of my YMCA camp glory days, I signed up for a Wesleyan Orientation Outing Trip. I joined the Seaside Bicycling Trip, where a group of first-years led by two upperclassmen were to bike 22 miles down the the Hammonasset coast and camp out overnight. I hoped that even if I didn’t meet any cool new people, at least I’d build some badass calf muscle.
The trip itself proved to be much more than a vigorous athletic feat alongside my first-year peers. Off the bat, I could tell that I hadn’t correctly estimated the length or difficulty of the bike ride, and boy does 22 miles seem long with a 5-lb. tent in your JanSport. I hadn’t checked the trusty iPhone weather app and recognized the very possible reality that I would be sleeping (or not sleeping) in a pool of water all night. But I also didn’t think that this excursion would bring the privilege I have of attending a liberal arts school such as this one into direct focus. Paradoxically, leaving the Wes campus brought me closer to it, and I realized that there are very few times in one person’s life where a lack of true responsibilities coincides so conveniently with the freedom to explore the plethora of resources surrounding you.
I guess there is something about whipping through the Connecticut wilderness, accompanied by a group of like-minded but diverse individuals, that makes one reflect on what brings us all here. During my first steps off campus in what felt like months (but was not even two weeks), I realized the beauty of the haven that I will come to call home in the next four years. In the sincerest of efforts not to sound like a tour guide, Wesleyan (and college in general) is a place of adventure, spontaneous activity, and diversity of choice waiting to be explored by each new incoming student. In an odd way, being away from the campus in an environment so different than dorm life made me realize that I find comfort in the uncomfortable and new. Without sufficiently processing it, I had dived headfirst into a new life, a new group of friends, a new part of the country.
Some will do it by joining the co-ed Frisbee team and mastering forehand; others, by testing a lab experiment they’ve always been curious about. I wanted to challenge myself and leave any semblance of a comfort zone behind, if just for one day. Spending six hours on a bike going up grueling hills and dodging the speeding pickup trucks of Connecticut locals was by no means a typical weekend of mine, but in doing this I learned quite a few new things about myself, my peers, and my life. I learned that it is okay to think you hate something, whether it be just for a second or for hours at a time, because the next moment where you find yourself content is comparably one of pure bliss.
College life exists in a vacuum. You live, eat, learn, and breathe with the same 3,200 students for four years, and only find respite at home during breaks. Even then, you are thrust into the equally irregular lifestyle of the quasi-responsibility of your part-time job, excessive parental doting, and an embarrassing amount of mom’s chili.
How do we put things into perspective? How do we take a step back during college without completely stepping out of the bubble?
The answer is to get out there. Don’t forget the community around you or the “real world” that is tangible just beyond campus boundaries. Maybe you’ll find inspiration for your next essay, or discover a passion that you could only be introduced to by accessing the world out there. Whatever way you choose to do it, the new perspective that however many months or years at Wes has given you will affect not just how you interpret the world, but how you contribute to it.
Walsh is a member of the Class of 2019.