I just started my freshman year of college. In fact, as I am writing this, it's the first week of school. I arrived on campus approximately two weeks ago, because I chose to participate in a five-day (four-night) backpacking trip as a pre-orientation program. Besides the five hours each way on the bus, I spent these five weeks with no cell phone, no showers and only 10 other people to keep me company. There's no doubt in my mind that everything I learned from this trip helped to prepare me for college. Since not all of us can go out into the woods for a few days, I thought I'd share seven lessons with you instead:
1. Social media should always be second to actual socializing.
Most of the people in my group brought their phones with them for photos, but I had my camera so I left my phone behind completely. Even the ones who brought their phones kept them off most of the time. It was clear that everyone in the group was completely present, and we learned a lot about each other. After just five days, we got very close. I know part of this is because we spent 24 hours a day with each other, but I also know that the games we played and real conversations we had around the campfire were a big part of that too. This isn't meant to shame anyone for scrolling down their Instagram feed or saying we should all give up technology forever. But if I can go five days without even thinking of social media, maybe we should all try to take a break once in a while.
2. Friendships form when you least expect it.
As I said, the people in my group got pretty close over just a few days. While I don't see every single person every single day, I found my fit in a small group whom I do hang out with regularly. If you're like me, you were (and likely still are) worried that you won't find any close friends. I've found it very easy to talk to others on my campus and in group chats over the summer, but it can be hard to find people that you work really well with. I'm really lucky to have found a few already, and I know that you will too.
3. We are all capable of sticking to a reasonable sleep schedule.
A lot of people say that when you sleep in nature for a few days, your body's natural rhythm resets. I don't know about the science behind it, but I definitely felt this. I was able to fall asleep around 11 p.m. each night, and wake up around 7 or 8 a.m. the next morning. Granted, the exhaustion of hiking all day made it easy to pass out (even when we were sleeping on literal rocks). I'm trying to do my best to stick to this schedule, and I am surprised by how well I am able to do so. In fact, I've woken up before my alarm several times in the past two weeks. I don't know how this will translate to the rest of the semester, but I'm really grateful to have a steady sleep schedule as a foundation.
Your sleep schedule may be different than the one I've found works for me, and that's okay! Do you best to plan the rest of your day around it, and you'll be glad you did.
4. Pushing yourself physically is rewarding.
I'm the type of person who will maybe muster up the energy to look up a workout video on Youtube once or twice a week, and if I actually attempt to do any of the exercises I'll stop halfway through and rest until the next one starts. It's not because I'm not capable of doing them, I just don't like the feeling of my muscles burning, no one does. However, during this backpacking trip, I had to keep moving, even when I was ready to press pause. I was extremely surprised by how well my body was able to keep up. Now that I know how much power I hold inside of myself, I push myself to actually finish each exercise in those videos (well, most of the time anyway).
5. Nature is the best escape.
Existing in our society today almost feels like there's a constant buzz. Ten different things are always going, your phone is always pinging with notifications, and it can feel incredibly overwhelming to deal with it all. But when I was isolated from all of that, I felt better almost instantly. The birds and rushing water provided the only playlist for that trip, and that was all I needed. The air also felt incredible, even when it was thick and humid from all the rain. Even though the elements weren't exactly in our favor (did I mention the lightning?), it was still a very humbling experience to just be a small human among the big wild.
6. Any food that you don't have to cook for yourself is a gift.
Even though the cooking was very simple, it still took away the very little energy we had after an entire day of hiking (luckily, the food we cooked gave us the energy back). But I don't think I've ever appreciated the ability to just have food ready for you, and I will be very grateful for that when I'm at the dining hall this semester. As much as I love cooking, I don't want to do it for three meals a day. It takes time out of my day where I can be doing homework or reading. So whether it's a small snack or an entire meal, it's always a blessing to have it ready for you already.
7. Knowing your limits is not a burden.
I know before I said pushing yourself physically is very rewarding, but pushing yourself should not be confused with overexertion. It can be a fine line between the two, but the gist of it is you should always feel in control of your body. And if that means stopping or slowing down, then do it. Listening to our bodies was essential on this trip. If the person in front of us could go faster but we couldn't, we would stay at the same pace or even go slower (and even if nobody admitted it, I think we were all grateful to slow down when we did). There's no shame in the way your body works for you compared to someone else's body. It's all part of being human.
I didn't know what to expect when I started this trip. I knew the hiking would take a toll on me, and that I would enjoy being out in nature for a bit. In the end, it was so much more. The hiking was extremely rigorous and exhausting, but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. I hope that these lessons will help prepare you for school as well. And if you're lucky, you'll be able to push yourself in new ways too.