Life is starting to settle back into routine here at Princeton, and I am finally beginning to readjust after my recent semester abroad. As a senior (!), starting a new semester is simply a routine adjustment for me. But for some, arriving on campus has been the start of a new life, rather than returning to something familiar. These are the students who walk campus with the widest eyes, who wear the biggest smiles and the most free Princeton T-shirts. These are the freshmen.
The last time I saw many of these freshmen, they were smelly, dirty and lugging around backpacks that seemed bigger than them. Nonetheless, I couldn’t judge on such a first impression, because it is something that generations of Princeton students have all undergone. It was all a part of the glorious Outdoor Action experience.
Outdoor Action (OA) is a vast program that occurs before the start of each year, taking hundreds of incoming freshmen on a week-long excursion through hiking, bicycling and canoeing trips across America’s Northeast. Since my own experience on an OA trip in 2011, I have returned to help manage the program twice, and have had the opportunity to meet incoming freshmen while navigating through the heart of the American woodland. Once the semester actually begins back on campus, it is good to see the youngest class of Princetonians clean and smiling, though still looking a little lost.
Each year when I volunteer to help with OA, I do so through the Support Team, which is just one of many roles that students fill to help make Outdoor Action run smoothly. When my roommate and I signed up for OA Support, our job was essentially to travel in a support van to OA campsites and hiking trails and provide assistance and supplies to teams. Support is a great way to visit the scenic locations—from Vermont to Virginia—while still enjoying the comfort of indoor (or in-car) amenities. Our main interaction with the freshmen and OA teams is in our daily resupplying of water, snacks and other supplies (meaning that freshmen are almost always happy to see us).
The best aspects of joining OA support after one’s own freshmen year include the opportunities to make new friends among the freshmen, build upon navigation skills and experience a full week of excursion before the semester starts.
From the perspective of an upperclassmen, Outdoor Action is a relaxing, yet adventurous period of grace before we prepare to hit the books once again. At the same time, the experience in the outdoors seems to make both freshmen and upperclassmen all the more appreciative of Princeton’s campus once we return from the trail.