This past weekend, first-year students embarked on a retreat in order to help acclimate themselves to college life and to build a sense of community with their fellow peers.

Hosted by Campus Ministry and the Campus Minister for Retreats, Fiona Shovlin, this event seeks to give first-year students time to take a break and reflect upon their adjustment to their new surroundings and environment in the University community. As per Shovlin, “For a lot of first-year students, the college transition can be tough, but through Escape, our hope is that they may be able to find other students that are similarly trying to figure out what Fairfield means to them.”

The retreat took place in Ivoryton, Conn. at the Incarnation Center, where students were given the opportunity to take in the fresh air and open surroundings, sit around campfires and participate in many outdoor activities aimed at building community. While having the opportunity to get away from the stresses and woes often associated with the college experience, first-year students got the chance to simply get to know one another and find common ground. During the retreat, students were able to not only reflect on their transition to college, but as one of the student leaders, Kristen Yost ‘19 said, first-year students were also able “to explore their faith in college and meet people with similar interests as them.”

One of the first-year students who took part in the escape retreat, Thomas Leclaire ‘21, alluded that he felt as though it was “a great experience led by great leaders who were very helpful in assisting the first-years with the huge adjustment that we were all experiencing.”

In terms of specifics as to what events happened at the retreat, according to Shovlin, “Not only will they be reflecting and learning about themselves and others, but they’ll have some ropes course activities, an opportunity to canoe and eat some s’mores by a campfire.” Through these team-building activities, the hope was that students would be able to realize that they are not alone in terms of homesickness and be able to forge connections with others that are feeling the same exact way.

This year, in particular, was different from previous years in terms of the overall format of the retreat. Shovlin made it a point that, “We’ve made some changes this year to the structure in the retreat to more intentionally focus on Jesuit values and how they can relate to the students’ lives.” In particular, these changes involved a stronger incorporation of the core Jesuit values, cura personalis and magis. Student leaders on the retreat, according to Shovlin, demonstrate “what it means to be people with and for others, as well as how to be a contemplative in action.”

Yost believes that, “The retreat was very successful in terms of community building. We facilitated games and had small groups in order for first-years to get to know each other better and make more friends. They are able to get to know others on a deeper level instead of from programs.” Additionally, Yost added that “the experience for me as a student leader was successful and rewarding. As the director, it was great seeing the small group leaders facilitate discussion amongst their students and see their small group connect. Watching the 65 first-year students connecting and bonding with each other was the most rewarding part of the experience.”  

Shovlin aimed for a stronger adherence to the core Jesuit values in order to create a space that ultimately facilitates reflection among students, as well as the feeling of community that they will be able to bring back to campus following the weekend escape retreat.

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