The beginning of school hits many people suddenly and viciously. There is no transition. The sturdy gates of Old Campus seem to close for good on those long summer bike rides and the ample time to wander and ponder. In another few weeks, summer will seem like a distant memory pushed away by ever-increasing loads of homework, a barrage of extracurricular activities and constant fatigue.
For many students, there is a distinct separation between summer and the school year. Summer is for recharging; school is for work.
We are willing to work and even overwork ourselves during the semester because we believe this is expected. Students are to be driven, determined, focused, and as a result are wired to feel guilty about having too much spare time.
As soon as we see our residential college courtyards, we are transformed. “This year I want to do better, this year I want to work harder,” we tell ourselves. At the beginning of the year, we have commitment, confidence and willingness to embrace work.
But come winter, as the cold winds chill our bones and an endless stream of books strain our eyes, the familiar Gothic walls seem to move closer and closer inward. Our early feelings and goals can easily become traps. We will want to escape, but an inability to do so can force us to become increasingly antagonistic toward Yale. This inability to escape can lead to burnout and frustration, corrupting our college experience.
To some extent, stress and anxiety during the semester are unavoidable. But we should also remember that physically moving — going somewhere else, away from that familiar Gothic architecture and the carrels of Bass library — is a possibility. More importantly, the vast therapeutic benefits of doing so should not be underestimated. One reason summers feel so liberating is that it is easy to travel, to go on road trips or fly to another country. This feeling of freedom does not have to end with summer. There can be continuity throughout the year.
But getting away doesn’t have to involve going to another country, or even another city. In fact, we may find the same liberating qualities a few blocks north of Elm Street or east of Temple Street. Greater New Haven offers a plethora of interesting vistas, places, issues and people that can seem a world away from the Yale campus after half a semester.
Volunteering at a clinic, picking up trash at a park or performing music at a retirement center away from campus can bring surprising meaning and joy after hours of papers or problem sets.
Buy a bicycle or rent one from the soon-to-be bike-sharing program and take a Saturday morning to go to East Rock Park. Or travel in a random direction and see where you end up. Start to explore and become engaged early during the semester because once that irrational psychological barrier preventing one step beyond Science Hill is broken, the benefits of the places beyond the campus are always there for us later on.
Yale — indeed, any university — can feel frustrating and repressive as much as it can be immensely rewarding and enjoyable. A physical step forward, backward or to the side can accentuate those positive qualities, bringing excitement and variety to the drudgery of living for four years inside one square mile.
Charles Zhu is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.