Upon coming back, Inga, Kipper, and I were asked the same questions plenty of times.
“How was Chewonki?”
“How is being back?”
“What even is Chewonki?”
What I believe each of us has come to realize is that there is no short and simple answer to any of these questions. It’s difficult to compress our four months spent in such unique circumstances into a sentence or two, especially when the question is likely asked out of politeness and warrants only a one-word answer.
Deciding to go to Chewonki was not easy. The idea of Chewonki appealed to me as soon as I had heard that it existed; mid-freshman year, however, I would never even have considered the possibility of leaving Thacher. Realizing the draw of the opportunity and my interest in the program was intuitive, completing the application was a matter of work and time management, but deciding to really do it, to send in the form and sign away four months of my time at Thacher, was far from easy.
No matter what I was told about the program, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there were huge risks embedded in the decision. The uncertainty of everything associated with the transitions of going and coming back was intimidating, and I struggled with a deeply rooted conflict of interests, having no motivation to leave Thacher coupled with an unrelenting drive to go to Chewonki.
Eventually, my fascination with the program outweighed my fear of the unknown. With such an amazing opportunity presented to me, it felt foolish not to take hold of it. I knew that I would inevitably continue to question my decision to go until I was in fact there, experiencing the program, living out the semester I’d anticipated for so many months. That’s precisely how it played out for me.
Once I had finally arrived at Chewonki, I was extremely pleased with my decision. Working on the farm felt fulfilling and good, and working in the field for science was an amazing new approach to learning that I am so happy to have experienced. The people I met, faculty, staff, and students alike, have undoubtedly had lasting effects on my life in ways that I had not anticipated and will never take for granted.
My friends and family both feared that I would change immensely throughout the course of the program, due to the impression of intensity and one-track-mindedness that the Chewonki mission can emanate; in retrospect, I, too, feared such a change. But I do not think that I have been fundamentally altered by my time in Maine. My outlook on life has been expanded in no small part, but the information and new perspectives that I gained at Chewonki have only built on the part of me that already existed.
Whatever reputation it may have, Chewonki itself doesn’t really change people. Chewonki affects people in the same way that Thacher does: by simply providing the circumstances within which students can grow as people in new ways.
It takes a certain initial outlook to draw one to Chewonki; in that way, it’s incredibly self-selecting. There is without a doubt a very distinct culture at Chewonki, but I don’t believe that there is a uniform mold for a Chewonki “graduate.” All students thrown into the same circumstances do not leave changed in the same ways, or necessarily changed at all.
For me, Chewonki was, in part, a new way to look at life for a short amount of time; for some it was simply an escape from the life of an average high school student. Whatever one’s mindset going into Chewonki may be, no one will emerge with the same takeaways. Chewonki is truly what you make of it.
If you’re thinking about going to Chewonki, learn the basics. No, phones are not allowed, and yes, there are always showers available. Beyond the surface research, it depends mostly on your willingness to leave Thacher and take the chance. If the draw of the program is irrepressibly appealing, don’t try to fight it; acknowledge and investigate it. I doubt you’ll regret it.