If you were to tell me at the beginning of this year that I would be starting college 10,000 miles away from home, in the rugged wilderness of Vermont, with 9 complete strangers for 5 days, I'd have called you crazy. But it did happen. And it was crazy, in the best way possible.
Just 2 days after braving a 20-hour flight from Singapore to Boston, I dove head-first into the Tufts Wilderness Orientation (TWO) Pre-Orientation program intensely jetlagged, mildly homesick and completely unacquainted with anything remotely related to 'hiking' or 'wilderness.' The 24 hours right before we kicked off our journey were filled with self-doubt. As I was haplessly attempting to stuff my sleeping bag into a backpack that seemed taller than me, I muttered to myself over and over, “Why did I do this again?”
Little did I know, this question would be answered over and over in the 5 days ahead. Whilst traversing through 20 miles of the Appalachian Trail, my TWO wilder-family and I powered through countless rounds of Contact, sang at the top of our lungs to the wildest trail song playlist (think: everything from the Mamma Mia soundtrack to Ke$ha to Mandarin love songs), threw helpless guesses at the most frustrating riddles (thanks, Jacob!), and had some of the most meaningful heart-to-heart conversations about our cultures, backgrounds and fears. In under a week, we managed to open our hearts to one another and found 9 pillars of support I’m sure none of us ever thought we’d find coming into this adventure.
One of my favorite memories was on our last night where our TWO leaders organized a surprise Masterchef cook-off. As a group, we were tasked to whip up a 3-course meal from the food we had left in our backpacks for our leaders to judge. What ensued was an exhilarating rush of figuring out how to work a makeshift stove, chopping onions, carrots and cheese with a blunt Swiss army knife, and chortling at one another’s culinary incompetencies till we were close to tears. And in the midst of it all, we somehow managed to conjure up a spread of grilled pineapple quesadillas, Chinese peanut sauce noodles, and caramelized apple crepes - all this from 8 freshmen who’d barely stepped foot into a forest just a week ago. It was a marker of just how far we’d come together - not simply as people more in touch with our ‘wild’ side, but as friends who have each other’s backs and revel in simply being in each other’s company.
In a scene deeply etched in my memory, I vividly remember dicing carrots on an overturned pot lid and seeing the sun in the distance dip below the mountains, feeling the chilly breeze in my hair and basking in the sheer joy of being in this new family - hearing Valeria's infectious laugh, Max's hilarious Spongebob impressions, and Lily and William's insane driving escapades. With nothing and no one around us but miles of pine trees and each other’s presence, it felt like we’d created a little home just for us.
On the 22nd of August 2019, I landed in America not knowing a single soul in the country, scared out of my mind about the journey that lay before me. And just 6 days later, I emerged from the Appalachian Trail with a belly full of bagels and GORP, and 9 new pals for life. I would not have traded my TWO experience for the world and for those of you considering TWO as a pre-O option next year, I’d say “Do it.” It’s going to be a great way for you to push your limits, learn things about yourself you never knew and form connections that you’ll cherish for a long time.
I know I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.