While most students were returning to Cambridge last weekend, a group of about 50 were gathered in Central Massachusetts, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones, in some cases while belting out “Let It Go” during karaoke. The pop anthem from the movie “Frozen” about surmounting tough challenges seemed a fitting choice for these first-years who’d made it through their transition to College and were looking ahead to spring semester.
The Saturday karaoke session, which ran overtime due to enthusiasm, was one of the activities offered during the First-Year Retreat, held over three days at the Prindle Pond Conference Center in Charlton. The goal of the annual gathering is to help students regroup and reflect on personal identity and core values through guided sessions with older students, coupled with various options for activities, mindfulness and wellness training, and relaxation.
“I didn’t expect to come to so many realizations about myself so quickly, but I did,” said Ibrahim Mammadov ’23, who passed on karaoke for an afternoon of painting with watercolors. “We’re learning a lot about optimism and positivity, and how to solve problems in a new way.”
The trip was organized by the First-Year Experience Office, part of the Harvard College Dean of Students Office. The retreat, now in its fifth year, is offered on a first-come, first-served basis during Wintersession at no cost to students. Financial support for the retreat is provided by the Harvard College Dean’s Office and the Dean of Students Office.
“One of the benefits of having the retreat between the fall and spring semesters is that the participants have had a full semester of experiences to draw on, and they can reconnect with what got them here and what’s special about their life journey so far,” said Madeleine Currie, resident dean of first-year students, who has overseen the retreat since it began in 2015. “There is also something powerful about taking people out of their usual physical environment, which accelerates reflection and making new connections in your own mind and more connections to one another.”
For some students that social piece was key.