If the first-year students were anxious about the transition to college, they were in a close-to-ideal spot to sooth jittery nerves and distract them from impending big changes.
Standing around a rotting deck on Wednesday morning (their fix-it project for the moment), the nine students on the Morris Farm Orientation Trip, in Wiscasset, Maine, were surrounded by rolling farm fields. Several free-range hens were seeking bugs in the grass nearby. And the group had a straightforward task to do: fix up an old deck and move it closer to the farm’s main deck where it might be used more.
Their leader — architect and farm board member David Landmann — was giving instructions. He listed the projects he had in mind for them: infrastructure-related endeavors such as repairing benches in a gazebo used by students and building an outhouse that will use collected rainwater for a hand-washing station. “This is a wonderful taste of an alternative lifestyle,” he said. “This is so not point-and-click desk work. It’s all so applied.”
The seven first-year students and their two leaders — Isabella “Izzy” Vakkur ’20 and Keehoon “Harry” Jung ’20 — were on Day One of their three-and-a-half day orientation trip. Their particular expedition aims to introduce students to a local farm and give them a bit of insight the region’s agricultural sector.
In addition to working and camping at the farm (the group had to decide between sleeping in a large meeting room or in the barn’s hay loft), the Morris Farm students will also visit a nearby jail’s farm, where inmates grow food, and they will volunteer at a local food pantry. They also will fit in a few just-for-fun activities. Throughout the trip, the students cook all their own meals. Each evening ends with this activity: “Down time at the farm, cook dinner, reflection, introduce warm and fuzzies.”
By 9 a.m Wednesday, the students were creating foundational supports for the new deck. Sam Grad ’21 was using a pickaxe to dig out the ground for the new supports. The others stood around him. “You all having fun watching me?” he asked in a playful tone.
Next up, Laila McCain ’21 and Chloe Swedberg ’21 worked at the ground with shovels. “Your time to shine, ladies!” Izzy Vakkur encouraged them.
Harry Jung said that he thought his group was just beginning to show signs of warming up to one another and relaxing. All the first-years arrived at Bowdoin yesterday. After sleeping in tents set up throughout Farley Field House on Tuesday night, each group on Wednesday morning set out on one of the many orientation trips that disperse throughout the state. Some trips are outdoorsy; others are more focused on community immersion and service.
“I think they’re bonding,” Jung observed, of his group. “They’re laughing and working together, talking more. They seem more at ease.”
Both he and Vakkur said they wanted to lead an orientation trip because their own trips last year had been so helpful. As a newly arrived first-year from South Korea, Jung was nervous, anxious, and lonely in his first hours at Bowdoin. Plus, he said of his temporary job this week: “It’s a chance to go out on an adventure.”
Vakkur said her orientation trip was not only enjoyable — she went backpacking in the Mahoosuc mountain range in Western Maine — but she was also able to get answers to many of her questions about life at Bowdoin from her two leaders. “[Orientation trips] are an integral part of the first-year experience,” she said.
Getting back to the task at hand, Landmann noted that the ground supports for the new deck location appeared to be level, according to his eight-foot leveling instrument. “Life is good!” he said. “We are lucky.”
The group was not so lucky when it couldn’t find more than one crowbar with which to remove nails from the soft deck wood.
As Jack Donohue ’21 used the crowbar to pull up a board, which finally came up with a great tearing sound, Vakkur asked, “Was that satisfying?”
By 10 am, Landmann suggested the group take a break. Vakkur wondered whether it might be a good time to go to the grocery store to pick up supplies for the days ahead. She asked anyone whether they had food requests. Not getting much feedback, she expressed a little surprise. “I get so excited about food!” she said.
After a bit more prodding, she scribbled down pop tarts, paper towels, and lunch meat and cheese for sandwiches. One student wondered whether they could get fruit and vegetables — and someone suggested grapes and apples, another celery. Vakkur noted, too, that she and Jung planned to make chili, fajitas, and pasta for upcoming dinners. “Any toppings requests for the fajitas?” she asked.
Landmann, observing this process, said it’s always interesting to see what different groups like to eat. Then he asked everyone where they were from. The answers came back: Boulder, Colo., Seattle, Baltimore, Saint Lucia, South Korea, Boston, Atlanta, and Shanghai. He told his story about how he ended up in Maine, which he loved, after growing up and living elsewhere.
Then the students climbed into a big white van and took off for the grocery store. Check out their full schedule.
A few thoughts from the first-year students on why they chose the Morris Farm Orientation Trip and what they thought of it so far: (These are not exact quotes)
Sam Gard: Instead of dealing with leisure, we get to do something productive, and we get an opportunity to do some fun stuff. …[Also] I want to get more into volunteering. Part of the reason I picked this trip, and picked Bowdoin…was because I wanted to be where they have good community service and people help each other. A lot of good people go here.
Johari Joseph: I thought there would be animals! [Also] in a lot of places in Baltimore (where she is from) it’s hard to get good fresh food that is not expensive, and I’m interested in working on that.
Laila McCain: It seemed peaceful.
Renita Shivnauth: I thought it would be cool to learn about agriculture here because I’m from the Caribbean.
Jack Donohue: I’ve always had an interest in agriculture, especially growing up in a city (Shanghai, China). My grandparents had a dairy farm in California — it really exposed me to rural life, which is why I decided to spend four years in Maine.
Chloe Swedberg: I’m having a good time getting to know people. And we’re cooperating well, it’s good teamwork.
Aaron Miller: At first I was a bit nervous meeting everyone, but our group came together so fast. Everyone is already friends. It’s made me calmer about the coming year.