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Carleton anonymized

As a freshman from California, I was pleasantly surprised to have escaped the brunt of Minnesota winter during the Fall Term. The changing leaves were warm and sat just how they did in the admissions packet. I knew Winter Term would be different. My mom took me shopping the day before I flew back from San Francisco; she realized my heaviest jacket was a hoodie. Upon my return, I inhaled the sharp, dry air, and accepted the conditions with grace. However, Winter Term has been different in ways I didn’t expect.

The size of Carleton really struck me in all of Fall Term due to the sheer number of people I would see and interact with moving from place to place. The path that stretches across campus, notably passing LDC, used to be a breeding ground for awkward hellos and small talk. That path that I braved so often in freshman fall seems foreign to me now. There is an emptiness on campus that is difficult to describe, but the absence of interaction and traffic along that walk represents it as well as anything.

Masks play a big role in that, unfortunately. I was never someone who wore my mask outside. Maybe it was because I was more risk tolerant than others when it came to COVID-19, but this winter has changed that. It just doesn’t feel worth it to take it off and then put it back on again constantly. So I leave it on, no big deal. However, the effect is that I really can’t even tell who I’m passing anymore. I’m sure I’ve walked by dozens of friends with my winter hood and mask on, wincing in the icy wind, and not even noticed who they are. The sudden anonymity of the journey across campus feels antithetical to Carleton’s culture and identity.

Friends of mine have told me similar things. The absence of larger parties and the general lack of movement around campus, at least relative to Fall Term, has tightened social circles. This aspect, unlike other differences, is not objectively bad. You see the people who you really want to see and those who want to see you. Winter Term requires effort. Things don’t just happen, you have to make them happen. There’s a more high-maintenance thought process required each day. The constant checking of the weather, the looming presence of COVID-19 and the painfully short days demand reflection on how you want to spend your time.

I have noticed in my own life that everything just takes a little bit longer. When I came back to campus, I simply turned my same alarms back on. I thought this would be fine and I would seamlessly get back into my routine since my schedule is similar to how it was in the fall. For some reason though, I began to notice that I was either late to class or wherever I was going, or barely making it on time.

I don’t think there’s necessarily a solution for any of the differences I’m mentioning. Even as a freshman, I knew inter Term would be different, a prompt for reflection. However, the presence of COVID-19, which has changed the unique and close feeling around campus, is difficult to reckon with. I wouldn’t say that this term is as inherently horrible as many are making it out to be, despite differing experiences. What I would say is that I have no idea what a normal winter is like. This particular scene is my only reality.

There’s no denying that it is different, though. It’s slow, methodical and transparent. These adjectives can either elicit a certain suffocation and nostalgia for the warm and fast-paced fall or a comforting sense of simplicity, a step back from a burdensome 2021. Every day, I try to choose to perceive it as the latter, even though sometimes my memories of the fall get the best of me.

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