The St. Olaf campus takes on a different personality over Interim. The normal bustling and chaotic nature of Buntrock is hushed by the absence of nearly a quarter of the student body. During my freshman year, I never noticed the Interim lull with the exception of shorter lines in Stav Hall and a greater availability of Cage tables. All of my friends were still on campus; there was never a distinction between the regular semesters and Interim because there was no one missing.
Sophomore year, however, hurtled forward with constant blows of change and obstacles. The largest came with the arrival of Interim and the departure of five of my closest friends. My octet was reduced to three girls, and my usual crowd was sprawled around the world. I came back to an empty and uncharacteristically clean dorm room. I was uneasy sleeping next to a bed I knew should be full and surrounded by pictures of another life hanging on the wall. The first night of Interim, there was an overwhelming sense of quiet – a rare occurrence in a college dorm – and a loneliness that accompanied the loss of a roommate.
It is easy to convert to a hermit lifestyle during Interim. The air is brittle and cold, the sky is almost always gray and it’s easy to justify staying in, wrapped in a blanket cocoon. During the first week of Interim, I found myself battling with these exact decisions. I was tempted to mope in my room and isolate myself, but I eventually coaxed myself into stepping outside and looking up.
There are two mindsets to have when a handful and a half of your friends leave to study abroad: wait quietly for their return or embrace their absence as an opportunity to become more independent. Despite the comfortable temptations that the first option provides, I followed the second, and I encourage all others who find themselves in a similar situation to do so as well.
Having a close-knit group of friends is fantastic. There is never concern for finding people to do homework with, or eat meals with or spend time with on the weekends. That being said, having a single group of friends can also act as a shield. It’s still possible, of course, to meet new people, but the process of gaining a friend is a slow and tedious one. Take away your close friends, and this process is suddenly accelerated. Whether you’re on a study abroad trip, or still at home on the Hill, relationships are rapidly formed without the restrictions that well-established friends unknowingly enforce.
I found through my own experience that having friends leave campus for a whole month opens up an entirely unique and healty opportunity. A second chance to meet new people or strengthen already established relationships is a gift. It’s absolutely terrifying to step away from comfortable relationships and to relearn how to introduce yourself and interact with strangers. A sense of déjà vu to freshman year encompasses the entire experience: always introducing and communicating through safe small talk until the switch suddenly flips from strangers to friends.
Interim is not meant to be coddling; it is not meant for reminiscing and waiting, despite the ease of doing so. Take separation from friends in stride and practice independence. Practice walking with your head up, saying hello and genuinely asking about someone’s day. Separation from your closest friends is hard, and their return to campus is extremely exciting and relieving, but separation is also healthy.
Having a month away from my own closest friends is the cause of so many new friendships that I have now, as well as a new sense of confidence. The independence that can be created from time apart from friends builds lifelong communication skills, and relationships that are established will weave a stronger support system and community for personal benefit. Whether it’s for a month, a semester or a year, I encourage all homestayers to collect memories that come with new friendships. When all students eventually reconvene, Buntrock will once again be a buzzing hub, and stories will flow from friend to friend, Ole to Ole.
Rachel Gessner ’19 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Plymouth, Minn. She majors in biology and concentrates in biomolecular and environmental science.