THS Logo

Friday, September 18, 2015

Finding community at Harvard: Freshman Outdoor Program

In college, we can too easily feel like we are alone - even in a sea of classmates, fellow students, and the larger community. It's easy to isolate ourselves in libraries, never venture out of our dorm rooms, or make excuses when friends ask us out to meals. It's too easy to not seek out support when we're feeling lonely, but if there's one thing that I've learned in college, it's that being in community keeps me grounded. 

Harvard is really great at fostering community, and making sure that we're all supported. From matching us with freshmen advisers (faculty and staff that advise us throughout our freshman year), proctors (staff and faculty that live in the dorms with us), and PAF's (peer advising fellows; upperclassmen that give us real, grounded advice). 

One of the best community-building experiences that bring together students of such varying backgrounds and experiences is the Freshman Outdoors Program (FOP), held before the school year begins. It's a week-long backpacking trip in the woods of Maine/New Hampshire, and groups of up to 10 freshmen trek through the rocky trails, led by 2 enthusiastic (and super fit) upperclassman leaders.

Imagine spending a week with people you just met, wearing the same hiking gear for a week, no electronics, sleeping under tarps, and licking your bowl clean after every meal -- it's the most incredible bonding experience, and one that truly pushes us to cling on to the people in our community when things are hardest.