When I first received the email for Sophomore Escape Retreat advertising “discussions about emotional intelligence, identities, and core values” with my peers, I considered it for about three minutes before deciding I wouldn’t have time for it. I put it out of my mind for the next three weeks and went on with my life, convinced I wasn’t missing anything but icebreakers and “fun” camp activities. The Monday before the weekend, my friend Hannah plopped into the seat next to mine and said that a couple spots had opened up if I was interested. I guess the impending fear of missing out was too much because I immediately pulled out my laptop and signed up in the middle of class.
On Friday, September 23rd at 4 pm, I hobbled onto bus #5 with my duffle bag, my backpack, a borrowed sleeping bag (shout out to Maria), and settled down for the hour long ride to Camp Canadensis with my fellow sophomores. The highlight of the bus trip was definitely when we neared the camp and I saw two cows in an open field; I scared Hannah with my shriek of excitement as I banged on the window, as if that would somehow close the distance between me and my bovine friends.
We pulled into Camp Canadensis and it was beautiful, with tall, leafy trees surrounding the lake that we kayaked on during our free time. There were fire pits for bonfires, beach volleyball set-ups, basketball courts, and even a piano in the rec hall (which we put to good use while we sang Adele). The cabins were rustic, and although it had indoor plumbing you could definitely see the ground through the floor boards when you sat on the toilet. In the mornings and at night it was freezing cold, and since there was no temperature control of any kind, huddles of people with numb popsicle fingers could be seen trying to keep warm.
After hours of ice breakers (which were actually pretty fun), Sophomore Escape participants got really dope jackets before relocating to have a “fireside chat” with President Simon and Provost Farrell about campus climate. Some of the issues brought up included hazing, student inclusion, bus schedules, and funding for clubs, but what really surprised me was how everyone in the room was so passionate about and invested in implementing change on campus to fix these issues; hands kept shooting up until we ran out of time. After saying good night, we swarmed around the bonfires for s’mores and warmth.
The next morning, we crawled out of bed to freezing temperatures and sluggishly got ready for a packed day of activities. I reluctantly joined in when a group mentor started a “good morning” chant, but by the end of it we were all screaming and jumping around at 9am, unheard of for college students outside of Mocos. Then, we each received a “Passion Planner,” in which we used the inventory we took earlier to map out our strengths and weaknesses when it came to self-awareness, awareness of others, and context of emotions. My highest scores were emotional self-perception, demonstrating citizenship, achievement, and empathy. Not surprisingly, my lowest scores were emotional self-control and healthy self-esteem, issues I’ve been working on since childhood. We had discussions and did exercises that made us think more critically about what our group considered the three most important skill sets: emotional self-perception, emotional self-control, and developing relationships.
Afterwards, we participated in a simulation where we were split into two groups, Alpha and Beta, each representing a made-up society with distinct customs. Alpha society’s patriarchal rules entailed how men were allowed to approach women but women were not allowed to approach men, among other rules. At one point in the game I messed up by inviting a male outsider trying to join in, and everyone booed me and waved their stipper cards in my face, the equivalent of flipping someone off (not a great feeling but I digress). The Beta society was more of a market system with people yelling seemingly gibberish language, like “BA KMKM DAWA,” and trading cards with apples and screws on them. Some people had the chance to check out the other society and try to assimilate. More often than not we ended up unintentionally offending each other (or in my case, offending my own people), and during the debrief, discussed how important it was to be understanding and open to people of different cultures and customs.
On the morning of the last day, we stood in a circle with our backs facing the center, and took turns answering questions, like if someone had made Lehigh feel a bit more like home after this experience, by anonymously tapping people on the shoulders. At the end we turned back around, linked arms, and listened to Courtney, one of the coordinators, insist that we could be the change Lehigh needed, and that we could do anything we set our minds to. Clichéd? Overused? Maybe, but also true.
As we headed back to the buses I teared up, in part because I had made such deep connections with forty people over such a short period of time, but also because I had almost missed this amazing opportunity. My apathy and lack of initiative almost led to me spending this weekend trying to figure out what to write for this assignment instead of meeting new friends and learning about leadership and engagement in the Lehigh community. I strongly encourage anyone who’s reading this to take a chance. Step outside your comfort zone and push yourself to do something worthwhile, whether that means going to more campus events (check out Creative Vibes block party Oct 1, 4pm at Warren Square A), or simply greeting someone you would’ve otherwise “Lehigh Lookaway-ed.” Clichéd? Overused? Maybe, but also true.
Let me know in the comments how you plan to lead more, affect more, and be more at Lehigh, or if you have any thoughts on my experience!