By Iris Liu, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, February 1, 2013
As our favorite alumnus Dr. Seuss once said: “The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold wet day.” Little did our first grade selves know at the time that this cold, wet, sunless place would one day become what we now so endearingly call home. According to the National Institute of Health, living in places with long winter nights (holla, Hanover!) increases the risk of developing Seasonal Affective Disorder. To be honest, sometimes when I wake up, I can’t even tell if it’s night or day — though I’m not sure if that’s due to the New Hampshire climate or my inappropriate sleeping habits. So many problems.
That said, it shouldn’t be surprising that many Dartmouth students choose to take winter off-terms. Though some of us spend our days dreaming of tanning in Cabo at this time of the year, others take advantage of the D-Plan’s flexibility to secure internships and opportunities to study abroad.
While the D-Plan’s irregularity tends to be disruptive to the consistency of friend groups, many students have discovered ways to keep in touch, no matter where ’round the girdled Earth they roam.
For Christian Sherrill ’13, being off campus during his junior Winter did not particularly strain his friendships, since many of his friends had also taken the term off.
As an intern at a hedge fund in Connecticut, Sherrill and his friends who were nearby arranged to drive up to Dartmouth several times during the term. While this allowed him to maintain a connection with the College, Sherrill said that living in the “real world” taught him to be more self-reliant.
“The world outside of Dartmouth is actually really convenient,” Sherrill said. “But you have to have the initiative and drive to go out and learn how to survive.”
While Connecticut may be only a stone’s throw away from the comfort of our Big Green home, Molly Chodakewitz ’15 decided to spend a term away from campus studying abroad through the French Language Study Abroad Plus program in Toulouse.
Though attending Dartmouth had already taught her to be independent from her family, Chodakewitz finds that the hardest part about living alone in a foreign country stems from her distance away from her normal support system of good friends.
“It can be hard to suddenly find that I’m dealing with all these new experiences and problems by myself,” she said. “But it’s definitely forcing me to exist out of my own comfort zone and to trust in my own abilities.”
Part of the shock may stem from how attached we are to the Dartmouth community, according to Lindsay Haut ’14, who is spending her Winter working in New York City.
Students and alumni of the College share a bond over traditions that “are held in such high regard, in almost a sacred way,” Haut said.
“The culture of the school gives its students a common experience,” she said. “It’s hard to explain Dartmouth to people who have never been a part of this community.”
In spite of the College’s tight-knit student body, Tarun Galagali ’13 appreciates that his two Winter off-terms in his sophomore and junior years gave him greater perspective on both Dartmouth and the world beyond.
Galagali spent his sophomore winter across the pond at Oxford University, where he found that he had no problem at all with the “real world.”
“Despite the misconception that the real world is a scary place, I found that being away really popped the illusion of the Dartmouth bubble,” he said. “I love that complexity of the ‘real world,” but it’s helped me appreciate more about Dartmouth.”
For Shayn Jiang ’15 — who will have been off campus continuously from her freshman Summer until her sophomore Summer — one of the most difficult aspects about independence in the “real world” is finding housing. (I guess it’s not just a Dartmouth problem after all!)
Because subletting and finding appropriately-timed leases was essentially impossible, Jiang was able to find housing through organizations like Three East Third Dorm and Pink Dorm, which cater to students who work in unusual time frames, she said.
However, being off campus for so many terms in a row has put a strain on both friendships and academics, she said.
“It sucks to not have seen my friends since last spring, but I didn’t have much of a choice regarding the timing of my internship,” Jiang said. “Though I do think a lot of students choose to be off during the Winter, because the weather can be such a downer.”
Indeed, amidst the gloom of a Hanover winter, many students tend to fall into routine, Sherrill said.
While having a routine can provide a “sustainable rhythm,” the winter context “makes everything more sluggish,” he said.
To counter these winter blues, Galagali encourages students to keep in mind how quickly four years at the College pass.
“When you realize the clock is ticking, you force yourself to start to appreciate things you never even realized you appreciated before,” Galagali said. “Once you see that you have access to such an incredible world beyond, you don’t feel like you’re confined to the illusion of the Dartmouth bubble anymore.”
Be as it may, I haven’t yet found my first Winter in Hanover as grim as Dr. Seuss may have led me to believe. I’d like to say that the “snow-is-so-cool” Californian tourist in me has been keeping my personal sun shining through the bleak days, but really, it might just be my gratitude for food delivery spilling over.