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Last month, hundreds of Harvard students emerged from the New England wilderness having completed, for the first time since 2019, the First-Year Outdoor Program outdoors.
One of six pre-orientation programs offered by the College, FOP sees more than 450 incoming freshmen, led by upperclassmen, take to the outdoors to forge new friendships through games, traditions, and team-building exercises. The program was held virtually in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many of “FOPpers” lauded the return of the original format of the program, citing new friendships and thrilling experiences.
“I did FOP because I wanted to meet students ahead of time, before orientation started, and I met some of my best friends on the trip,” Olivia G. Callander ’26 said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”
Lauren M. Teichholtz ’26, a New Yorker who had never backpacked prior to the program, said FOP presented an opportunity to leave her comfort zone.
“I had an amazing time, and almost everyone I've talked to also had an amazing time, no matter their background,” Teichholtz said. “I think FOP is fun for everyone.”
According to some participants, the tribulations of a week outdoors are what make FOP connections so special.
“With the conditions that you’re under, spending six days under a tarp in the backcountry, you learn a lot more about a person than you would spending six days with them on campus,” Elizabeth M. Crawford ’26 said. “You’re just immediately very vulnerable and just feel very comfortable being your true self.”
“You might be hungry and kind of tired, but it lowers the barriers for conversation,” Teichholtz said.
Even adverse weather was appreciated.
“We got caught in some rain, but it also made us closer as a group, trying to overcome the challenges of the trip,” Callander said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it.”
Upperclassman leaders, who spearheaded each expedition in pairs, also reported enthusiasm about the program’s return.
“I think the biggest challenge in virtual FOP was trying to still create the group and the sense of community despite not being able to spend the entire time in person,” FOP leader Nicole J. Bugliosi ’24 said. “It’s not the same as being in the woods all together, 24/7.”
Still, the program needed to overcome a gap in institutional memory, a task Bugliosi said fell upon FOP veterans.
“We luckily had a lot of seniors and super seniors who led FOP trips,” she said. “They were really good about sharing that knowledge.”
If there were growing pains, the freshman FOPpers didn’t notice.
“I think among all of my friends, everyone had raving reviews about their leaders,” Crawford said. “Nothing really went awry when it could have.”
“This was a whole new experience,” Callander said. “I really enjoyed every minute of it.”
—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SellersHill.
—Claire Yuan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.
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