White water rafting. Camping. Tennessee. These three phrases sum up the perfect pre-orientation trip for a first year student at Emory University. This four day pre-orientation program known as SOAR provided me with memories to last a lifetime.
There are a variety of SOAR trips from sea kayaking to backpacking, but white water rafting on the Ocoee River in Tennessee was what interested me the most. Each trip consisted of four leaders and around 15 freshman. It allowed me to meet new people before the year started.
On our first day of the white water rafting trip, we arrived at our campground located in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains. The bus ride was about two and a half hours from Atlanta. I had a blast jamming out to 2000s hits in the van with my fellow future classmates.
As a team, we set up our tents and made ourselves as comfortable as possible. The majority of the participants, like me, had never been camping before. I had never slept in a tent before. I was not used to the everlasting noise of the swarming insects. It was quite an experience!
During day two, the adventures began. We started the day off with a hike to the nearby Benton Falls. The hike was about a mile long and was not very difficult. The waterfall was jaw-droppingly beautiful and had crystal clear water. My friends and I climbed to the top of the waterfall -- it was breathtaking -- and we even inspired the leaders to do the same! Following this, we went to the beach adjacent to Benton Falls. Here, we played volleyball, ultimate frisbee, and went swimming with fish and salamanders.
Day three was by far my favorite. This was the day where we went white water rafting on the Ocoee River. While I have been rafting before on the Colorado River, this was such a different experience. We encountered several Class 4 and Class 3 rapids. I loved the thrill of being soaked head to toe by the rapids and spinning 360 degrees in the raft. By the end, I wished there were more rapids. I craved the excitement and adrenaline.
While day four mainly included packing up the campground and heading back home to Atlanta, this was the day where my SOAR group truly bonded. I enjoyed sharing my stories and interests and loved listening to others' as well. SOAR memories -- such as playing Mafia in the dark, roasting s’mores and strawberry fluff, and sharing the origins of our names -- will forever be fondly remembered and treasured.
This trip tested my limits and definitely brought me out of my comfort zone. It allowed me to grow and realize just how comfortable and sheltered my childhood was. After overcoming my fears, I learned that I could face any obstacle as long as I continued to believe in myself.
I strongly recommend the SOAR trip to any first-year student at Emory who wants to bond with future classmates and form friendships that will last a lifetime. It is well worth it!