Before enrolling in Tufts, I had never heard of “Pre-Orientation” programs. When I received an email from the university last year that explained the different programs that it offers, I was thrilled. Of the 7 different pre-orientation opportunities, Tufts Wilderness Orientation (TWO) was my top choice. Living in Montana, access to the outdoors is unlimited year-round, and I grew up camping and backpacking with my family. I figured that the people that were willing to hike with strangers for 5 days would be people that I would get along with well.
I wasn’t wrong. My overall experience was wonderful. It was so fun to meet and learn about and coexist with our little group as we trekked the 25 miles through New Hampshire, at some points along the Appalachian Trail. The landscape was different from what I was used to, but incredible nonetheless. We met some real AT characters along the way as well. We shared laughter and secrets and fears and hope and support with one another. At the time, I thought about how freeing it felt to be without a phone or external responsibilities, and how wholesome the connections were that we were making with each individual on trail. Leaving home had been hard for me, but TWO helped me realize closure and renewed excitement. It was the ultimate transition, and also felt as if it was foreshadowing the time ahead of me at Tufts. We are all unique individuals with separate reasons for choosing TWO and also Tufts in general, but those commonalities ultimately bring us together. I have been on campus for almost two months now and (not coincidentally) many of the people I have gravitated towards were also TWO participants. If I ever see someone from my particular group or one of our leaders, we always smile and chat. The camaraderie on campus is ever-present, and the green cord bracelets that we all sport are always an endearing reminder and conversation starter.
Our group tries to have weekly dinners with one another, although they generally end up being spontaneous get-togethers whenever we manage to fit them into our schedules. They usually begin with a random, unorganized plan made on a whim. This past Sunday, we convened at a round table on the second level of Dewick Dining Hall. 7:00pm is one of the busiest times to eat, and all of the tables filled up around us as we settled in. Dewick is the largest dining hall on campus and it was bustling with the day’s stories and loud laughter, but our easy-going demeanor and companionship endures, even off-trail. It is relaxing to share stories and thoughts with them, and I look forward to these meals whenever they do come together. It’s miraculous how those strangers’ faces on the bus and trail transitioned to be the first familiar faces I recognized on campus. Tufts brought us together during our first weeks, and continues to lead to new friendships and opportunities every day.