The summer before freshman fall is a time of major changes and preparation that can impact students’ first term at Dartmouth. Though everyone’s transition to college is different, upperclassmen have some ideas about how to make that transition smoother. I interviewed two ‘21s, Amy Tsai and Naeem Morgan, who are at the half-way point in their Dartmouth career, and asked them to reflect on their transition to Dartmouth.
Tell us about yourself!
Amy: My name is Amy and I’m from Orlando, Florida. I went to a public school that had magnet programs, and I was part of the Center for International Studies Program. Here at Dartmouth I’m an Economics major with a minor in Art History, and I play in the orchestra. I’ve played cello since I was little, so it’s something I’ve kind of taken with me here in college. I’m also the co-founder and Vice President of the Art Club on campus.
Naeem: I’m from Jamaica and I moved when I was 11, so I live in New Jersey. I’m a Government major with a minor in Human-Centered Design. I play football here. I’m also a member of Dartmouth Caribbean Connection, and I have a radio show.
How was your transition to Dartmouth?
Amy: It was actually pretty hard in the beginning, especially freshman fall, it was definitely an adjustment for me. I ended up taking Chinese 4 which is a really fast-paced course that squishes basically Chinese 1, 2, and 3 all into one term. With regards to homework, you don’t have homework every night that’s due within one day, it’s basically timed to maybe two weeks. Finding that right balance managing not only academics, but then of course you’re living with your friends and so social, and just, you know, everything.
Naeem: Overall, my transition to Dartmouth was a lot easier than a lot of my friends’, because my town is very small so it operates a lot like Dartmouth does, so it was easier to transition to just getting used to being at Dartmouth.
What were some struggles you faced in your transition?
Amy: Winter term was hard transitioning into really cold weather, especially coming from Florida, never having seen snow before. And I think also, not having a sport regularly, it’s really hard to kind of get yourself out of bed, into the gym and exercising, so that’s definitely another kind of obstacle I’ve had to overcome.
This is the first time in your life that you're going to interact with so many new people that have so many backgrounds in life, and you have to navigate that.
Naeem: The weather was definitely one thing I struggled with. It snows in New Jersey, but Dartmouth is a different type of cold. Socially, everybody’s trying to make friends freshman year and you kind of get sucked into it and you kind of forget that you also have to find yourself, and realize who you are. So that was one thing I struggled with, maintaining my identity, while also trying to socialize and meet all these new people. Because you know, this is the first time in your life that you’re going to interact with so many new people that have so many different backgrounds in life, and you have to navigate that. That was something that you definitely have to get used to. That’s a skill.
What were some ways you coped with the transition?
Amy: I think with time, academically, winter and spring term, I just got better with experience. You learn how to balance it. And I say this now but I think sophomore year, it’s still a struggle trying to find the right balance with everything. With regards to exercising, I think just definitely trying to play tennis a lot more. I think what really helped was, actually sophomore summer I joined a dance group and I really love it so this is something that I’m going to try to continue on through the rest of the regular year.
Naeem: I found the best friends I could ever find. I had floormates in my freshman dorm, French, that I still talk to, to this day. Whenever I was feeling upset, my neighbor, although she wouldn’t know, I would just go knock on her door and bug her, and not even let her know that I was upset, I just wanted to talk to somebody. I had a great group of guys that always picked me up and, though you’re in this weird, strange, different environment, they made it feel like home. That was really my coping method; good friends, good laughs, good memories.
What was the best part of your transition?
Amy: Definitely the people. You get this a lot at Dartmouth, but I really do believe that the people make Dartmouth what it is. It’s the community. I’m surrounded by so many great friends and just amazing people. I’m sure that in my two years left there are still people I haven’t met yet that I’m sure are amazing.
The people make Dartmouth what it is. It's the community.
Naeem: The best part of the transition was coming to the realization that I belong here. You come here and there are going to be people that are smarter, have better clothes, etc… and then suddenly you’re like, “wow, I made the right choice, I’m really supposed to be here.” I just remembered I sat down one day, I think it was the ending of my freshman spring, I sat down, and looked at everything I did that year in summary; the GPA I came out with, all the friends I made, and I realized that although I might not bring the same things to the table that a lot of my classmates do, I do bring some things that are equally important, and that gave me a sense of belonging. I wanted to feel like I belonged at Dartmouth, and I told myself, “you deserve to be here just like everybody deserves to be here.”
The best part of the transition was coming to the realization that I belong here... You deserve to be here just like everybody deserves to be here.
How did you prepare for your time at Dartmouth? Academically? Mentally?
Amy: I spent a lot more time with family, because during the next four years you’re definitely spending a lot of time away from them, so I took that time to just stay home, to kind of have those last moments with my family. Mentally, I think I was just really excited and not sure what to expect, but having that first O-Week kind of helped me get in the zone and helped me transition to college.
Naeem: I was always an adept kid, I didn’t really have to do much studying in high school, so I didn’t really worry academically. Mentally, because I’m from Jamaica, and my dad went to college in Jamaica, I never knew what an American college experience would be like, outside of TV. So I would see all these things on TV and mentally prepare myself for all the potential drama. I just remember being really excited and talking to my friends about all the possibilities of what could happen, who we could be, where we could go. I hyped myself up for football and socializing more than anything else.
How was your relationship with your family during this transition period?
Naeem: That was the first time a strain was put on my relationship with my family. I was an only child for nine years, and my parents spoiled me. I’m a mama’s boy. Every time I got upset, I could run to my mom and she was always there. This was the first time in my life where I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t just run to my mom. I couldn’t just go to my dad. You’re this young, 18 year old kid and you’re so excited to go off and get this sense of independence, and you forget that you might be alone on this campus, but your parents are still home worrying about you. I remember when I went maybe 2 or 3 weeks without calling my parents, and I finally called my mom, and I could hear the hurt in her voice. Call your mom, please, call your dad. Don’t forget about them just because you’re having fun, you're stressed about homework, or whatever. Call your parents, make sure they’re alright, they worry about you.
What do you wish you had known before coming to Dartmouth?
Amy: Dartmouth is small. It’s such a great thing that people always point out as a positive, but also know that it can be a double-edge sword sometimes; it’s great everyone knows each other, you see friendly faces everywhere, but on the other hand, really knowing how small Dartmouth is and that when it gets rough, it’s really really amazing honestly to just get off campus a bit. Go 15 minutes into Lebanon and go to Ice Cream Fore-U, and it’s just a great stress reliever. When things get hard, you can take a break in some ways. You can go down to the river, which is something I really enjoyed this sophomore summer that I haven’t before. I would tell myself to take advantage of the fall and spring, go down to the river to just relax. Take time for yourself.
Naeem: I wish I had known about all the resources Dartmouth has to offer. I had no idea. I just came in and told myself I would operate like I did in high school. I didn’t realize that, you know, there’s a place to help you edit your essays, there’s a place that can give you somebody to speak with in Spanish if you don’t feel like you’re adept in speaking Spanish. There are deans, there are people to talk to if you feel frustrated. There’s so many resources at your disposal. You have to know those resources are there, and you have to know how to utilize them, otherwise you’re not going to get as much out of them.
Take time for yourself.
What were some questions you had coming in? How did you find the answers?
Amy: A lot of incoming freshman always wonder about Greek Life at Dartmouth, because of its huge prominence, and they're just not sure what to expect. Now being an unaffiliated sophomore, I would say that it really does not matter. Even if the number of people involved is large, it really does not matter if you’re not in Greek Life. You’ll have a good time no matter what. I still do, and I have many friends who are in it and who aren’t in it, and I would say that it’s totally fine.
Naeem: My biggest question was tutors. If I need one, where can I get one? Are they students? Tutor questions were the first ones on my mind, and for those answers, I just asked around. Some people are kind of hesitant about asking, especially here where everybody is so smart. Maybe people feel like if you ask too many questions you come off as lacking knowledge, but I never had that fear, so I would ask, “you seem like you understand that, can I get some help?” Eventually someone answered that they had gotten a tutor. And they helped me sign up for one.
What's your favorite resource on campus?
Amy: Dartmouth has a lot that I haven’t taken advantage of as much as I should have, but I’ll give a couple I've used. I love the student tutors. They definitely helped me a lot, especially in CS1 and CS10. You have those labs when you get stuck with bugs you can’t figure out, so they really help work through it with you. As an art history minor, I write a lot of papers, and the librarians are great resources. There are specialized librarians for each subject. I was doing a paper for my medieval gothic architecture class on the ‘Books of Hours’ in Rauner Library, and there was something I just couldn’t decipher, so I went to one of these specialists. He translated the line for me, and another librarian helped me find a lot of resources and books that I couldn’t find in the library before, that really helped me with my essay.
Naeem: My favorite resource is RWIT. I love RWIT. Every professor looks at essays differently. They like different writing styles. So freshman year especially when I had to take Writing 5, I was writing essays how I had written them my whole high school career, and sometimes that just doesn’t cut it. You can walk in to RWIT, give an RWIT tutor the prompt, show them your essay, and they'll go over it with you step-by-step. What you did well, where you can improve. They sit you down through the process of editing and brainstorming and that's so cool to me.
Do you have any advice for incoming '23s?
Amy: Be excited. Try new things. It’s definitely helped me, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and enjoyed it, but at the same time don’t forget who you are.
Naeem: Be yourself. People come here and they feel like they have to change who they are to get friends, or change who they are to fit the environment. Don’t do that. There’s beauty in being in-tune with yourself. Being in-tune with yourself will open so many doors than conforming to get friends, I promise you. Your teachers will appreciate you more if you express yourself in the truest form. You will find the best friends you will ever make in your life, because guess what? The people who stick around when they see your quirks are the people you actually want to be in your life. It just makes everything a lot easier, transitioning to Dartmouth, when you’re not struggling with this identity issue. Be who you are and never be ashamed of being that.
Try new things.
Be yourself. Be who you are and never be ashamed of being that.
Interview conducted by Jenny Engelman '21, with Amy Tsai '21 and Naeem Morgan '21