Falling off an inflatable raft into whitewater rapids for the first time is a mildly terrifying experience. Especially when you’ve just been told that if you stand up in fast-moving water, your foot could get stuck and the current could snap the bones in your leg and pull you under and drown you. But after that initial heart-attack moment, when you’re floating on your back down the river, rushing past rocks and rafts and people, senses tingling with adrenaline–you realize, this is actually kind of awesome.
And I never would’ve experienced it if I hadn’t chosen to come to Hopkins.
Unlike the majority of the freshman class, I came to campus a week early to participate in a pre-orientation program. It was run through Outdoor Pursuits, one of the two outdoor clubs on campus, which offers five different pre-o programs ranging from rock climbing to whitewater kayaking. The one I chose (well, the only one that still had spots open) was called Multi-Element, and it had a little of everything: one day each of canoeing, climbing, and rafting, and a two-day backpacking trip. So while everyone else was still sunbathing on the beach or parked in front of the air conditioner, I was gearing up to spend six days in the wilderness, completely deprived of internet, refrigeration, and showers.
The day before the trip, when my mom and I finally pulled up in front of Wolman Hall, I was starting to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. After spending pretty much all summer lying on the couch eating ice cream, could I really survive a week of intense physical exertion and exclusively dried/canned food? Who else would be giving up the end of their vacation to embark on this journey with me? Would I make friends, or spend the week in awkward, reclusive silence? I had a vague idea of what I would be doing on the trip, but beyond that. . . once I said goodbye to my mom the next day and boarded the bus to the campsite, I’d be entering completely unknown territory. And I’ll admit, it was more than a little overwhelming.
Nevertheless, there was nothing else to do but jump in headfirst.
As it turned out, Pre-O was amazing. I met incredible people, did things I never thought I could do, and formed memories and friendships that will (hopefully) last a lifetime. I scaled the rock-climbing wall twice, tried unsuccessfully to stand up on the gunnels of a canoe, backflipped (on purpose this time) off the edge of a raft, ate lunch on the edge of a cliff, and a million more things ranging from the extraordinary to the completely insane.
Sure, being one of eight people crammed into a six-person tent was a bit struggle, as was hiking several miles uphill in ninety percent humidity, or having to bring all our dishes several hundred yards through the woods after every meal to be washed. Then again, I’d been expecting a struggle. What I didn’t expect was that every minute of every day, I learned something new, or tried something for the first time, or talked to someone I never would’ve encountered otherwise. I now know how to start a fire with hand sanitizer, what to do during a lightning storm, and all the lyrics to “Closer” by the Chainsmokers. Going on pre-o was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and looking back, I don’t know what I was so worried about.
The same thing, I’ve come to realize, applies to my overall Hopkins experience. In the months and weeks before I came here, uncertainty remained at the back of my mind. It wouldn’t be easy to leave my friends and family behind and start a new life in a new, unfamiliar city hundreds of miles from home. Now, having been here just over a month, I’ve already had some of the most unforgettable experiences of my life, and I continue to learn new things and challenge myself every single day. No doubt I’ll be faced with plenty more moments of uncertainty during the next four years, but I’m confident I’ll be able to overcome them. Besides, now that I’ve survived falling off a whitewater raft, there isn’t much that scares me anymore.