I was walking across campus, newly picked-up key in hand, trying to find my dorm, when it hit me: this essentially foreign place is my home now. I knew nobody, and yet, I was surrounded by my new family. This is how I saw Bates, but each student had a different first experience as they arrived on campus so naturally, everyone’s impressions are different.

Over the next week of orientation, I would be bombarded with massive amounts of information that told me all about strategies to succeed in the classroom and what to do in a crisis, but nothing about the people that make up this tight-knit community that everyone talks about. And yet, when I asked multiple first-year students’ for their initial impression of Bates, they all immediately spoke of the people. Amelia Keleher, a student from New Mexico said, “Super friendly and interesting people. A little overwhelming but mostly seemed like people were fun, yet could be serious.” The fact that she was able to see past the academic prestige, the sports teams, and the beautiful campus and just see the people when she looked around for the first time says a lot about the people she was looking at, but even more about her. It appears to me that Bates is made up of people just like this; that see people for who they really are and embrace the differences that exist between them.

The first time I saw the true Bates, was when I walked into Commons the first day after orientation ended. Now, I thought it was crowded when only the first-years were there, but all of a sudden, there were four times as many people and it was completely overwhelming, to say the least. I felt like a little kid that had been thrown in a pool and told to swim. At first I didn’t know what to do, but after a few seconds of flailing about, I began to look around and see old friends reconnecting and new friendships forming. I saw people connecting and for a second, it didn’t seem so foreign anymore.

Sleeping outside in thirty-five degree weather on the other hand, was completely foreign. I was just starting to feel comfortable when I was pulled off the Bates campus and thrust into the wild, which I think would make almost everyone uncomfortable. I guess that’s the point though, to take us out of our comfort zone, and force us to adapt. Since returning from AESOP, I realized that the whole experience is not all that different from starting college. It was hard and scary, but as each adventure was tackled, I became closer and closer to my group, just as I have with my fellow classmates. According to first-year Ben Goldberg, “AESOP was a fantastic opportunity for a break from all the stress that came with orientation, and served to give me a bit of a better look into the type of people who would be my classmates.” The trip put things in perspective regarding my new living situation. Trust me, after climbing up the steep, rocky face of a mountain, the walk up the million stairs to the third floor of Hathorn Hall doesn’t seem as daunting. Rachel Deptula said, “I was kind of intimidated by the few upperclassmen that were on campus when we got here but AESOP definitely helped with that. It affirmed my impression of Bates being a welcoming place, while also showing me that everyone here is pretty down-to-earth and just able to be themselves, which is super comforting.” So yes, starting college is still scary, but the physical challenges of starting college seem lesser after returning from AESOP and, more importantly, the emotional and social anxieties that come along with being the new kids on campus don’t appear as impossible to tackle.