The noisy crowd gradually quieted down. Under the cloudy sky at dusk, a flame was lit and passed around, from candle to candle, till everyone’s face was illuminated by the flickering candle in their hand. Everyone was holding their breath, using their palm to protect the delicate flame from the wind. This was Dartmouth’s traditional matriculation rituals that marked the start of the college experience for the newest incoming class–the Twilight Ceremony. And I was fortunate to be a part of it, as a Vassar exchange student participating in the Dual-Degree program.
Dartmouth is similar to Vassar in the sense that it is a rural college with a small population of students and a commitment to liberal arts education. With around 4000 undergrad and 2000 graduate students, Dartmouth is the smallest Ivy League institution located in Hanover, New Hampshire, deep in the scenic Upper Connecticut River Valley. However, it differs from Vassar because of its unique year-round calendar of four 10-week terms. Normally in one term, students take three classes, and for dual degree students two of which are usually engineering courses. This term, I’m taking ENGS 22 Systems, ENGS 35 Intro to Biotechnology, and LING 70 Psycholinguistics. And it’s weird for me to accept the reality that I’m almost midway through this term. The faster learning pace can sometimes be challenging to students, but I think it is totally manageable since Vassar has prepared you well.
My first few weeks at school have made me feel like a freshman again–getting lost on campus, learning all the new Dartmouth-specific slangs, joining all kinds of bonding events, trying out new student organizations, and exploring local restaurants. Although I found it difficult at first, I quickly adapted to my new surroundings. Within a few days, I figured out the quickest way to get to classes, the best time to avoid the crowd at the dining hall, and the quiet, cozy corner of the library where I can fully focus on studying, and I finally found my small group of friends to hang out with. Of course, I miss Vassar a lot, especially its people. A video call with my pod back at Vassar on Friday night would really make my week. When scrolling through my Vassar emails, tons of memories flooded into my mind, and I felt as if I was still a part of what was going on at Vassar. In everyday life, I always unconsciously compare things at Dartmouth with what I’m used to at Vassar, and I constantly bring Vassar up in conversations. When I introduce myself as a Vassar exchange student to new people, that’s how conversations usually begin–either they have friends who go to Vassar, or they’ve heard great things about Vassar, which makes them curious about my experience. I realized how my past experiences have made me unique and have given me a different perspective from others.
Through my JYA experience at Dartmouth, I learned to not be afraid of changes but be adaptable. It has taught me to embrace each new journey of my life and constantly challenge myself. This morning I walked past a graveyard on my way to Thayer, and it just reminded me of the graveyard near Kenyon. Finding familiarity in unfamiliar surroundings gave me a sense of comfort. In the morning breeze that’s way too cold for an early October morning, I realized I don’t need to be afraid of leaving Vassar because it has become a part of my identity, just as Dartmouth will become for me a year from now.