Semester Away Student Reflections
by Emily Jiang on Friday, January 22nd, 2016
With the first semester drawing to a close, students who were away during the fall at different semester programs such as The Mountain School, Chewonki, and CITYterm are starting to integrate themselves back into the Milton community. On the brink of exam week, the idea of going far, far away from Milton is enticing to many of us. These students’ invaluable perspectives returning from these semester programs can offer a taste of what a little abeyance from Milton would be like.
Choosing to leave Milton—that is, your academics, friends, and lifestyle as you know it—even for one semester, can be a daunting decision. What made these students choose to go? Desi Rosas (II), who spent these past few months in Maine at Chewonki, says, “[Chewonki] seemed like an escape from the routine of Milton that I’d been used to for two years already. I love new things and new adventures, and even though Chewonki was really out of my element, it was a new adventure.”
Sam Oldshue (II), who spent his first semester at The Mountain School in Vermont, adds that, “after Alden Smith [the head of The Mountain School] presented to us, I saw it as an opportunity for me to be in an academic and social environment that was really challenging, intriguing, and, probably most importantly, supportive.”
Sam says that the biggest difference between Milton and The Mountain School was “the fundamental base of the community. At TMS, everything is focused on the process, not the final result; that goes for academics and friendships. The entire curriculum of work periods and classes focuses on making sure that you spend as much time as possible with your classmates, getting to know them and yourself…The same thing is true for academics, where grades are not the main goal of classes but rather the learning process, while at Milton, oftentimes the focus is on the grades and surviving as an individual.” Similarly, Gemma Freiberg (II) found that the CITYterm curriculum “really wanted us to focus on learning for the sake of learning, rather than learning for the sake of getting a grade. That alleviated so much pressure. I was much busier at CITYterm, but significantly less stressed.”
These students can all agree on one thing: their time away was a huge learning experience: not only in academics and the world around them, but also in their identities. Gemma reflects, “Prior to CITYterm, I viewed everything in black and white – I found safety in certainty. CITYterm taught me how to embrace ambiguity and explore uncertainty, and it really changed how I live my life.”
While he didn’t undergo a huge personal change, Sam says, “I realized that being happy as a way of life is really something special. I don’t mean that I was always happy. That’s not possible. But I was living happily and that allowed me to be freer and more genuinely myself…[I also realized that] having people with me is really important to me. Having personal and real connections with people makes me far happier than having things, going to places, or creating memories.”
While some of these students have visited campus since their returns, all have yet to fully reintegrate into the Milton community. Adjusting to their home lives, however, the students are experiencing a culture shock of sorts, though this transition has been easier for some than others. “I think the biggest change is the people. [At The Mountain School] I was fully immersed in the community of incredible people at all times. Because of how small the community was, I did everything with everyone. Every part of my life was The Mountain School,” Sam says. “[The transition] has been really hard. I miss the people, having incredibly close friends around at all times, and spending a huge amount of time with tons of different incredible people every day.”
Desi, however, says, “[The transition] hasn’t been that hard for me as it can be for some people…the hardest part about being here is just accepting that the world isn’t Chewonki.” Along the same lines, Gemma says, “The transition was pretty seamless…[but] I really miss the feeling of being passionate about what I’m learning. Everything we did [at CITYterm] felt necessary, and I was never bored or unengaged in what we were learning.”
While a semester away might not be something everyone would want to explore, the fresh outlook these students gained with a focus on what it means to learn and to be part of a community can be applied to our own lives and mindset. As we go about the rest of our journey here at Milton, we can all learn from these students in adopting a “big picture” perspective to inspire the best learning and social environment at Milton.
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