As I made my way to the front gates on a brisk Friday afternoon, duffel bag in one hand and pillow in the other, my mind buzzed with all of the homework I had for the weekend. Economics problem sets were piling up, I had a French exam to study for and the number of pages to read for history seemed to be growing at an exponential pace. And now all of this work was on hold for ESCAPE, a mysterious retreat program in rural Virginia that was supposed to be “transformative” and “life-changing.” I had only heard bits and pieces of what made up ESCAPE: namely, reflection, great food and a whole lot of dancing. I had delayed going on the retreat until one of the last weekends because I always felt too “busy,” but at the urging of my friends, I decided to go.
That decision was one of the best I made during my freshman year. Perhaps the greatest part of ESCAPE is the genuine and caring human connections that blossom during it. From the stranger I sat next to on the bus to the people I roasted s’mores with, the default conversation of “name, school, hometown” transformed into meaningful dialogue with my fellow Hoyas. Hearing from wise upperclassmen leaders and my fellow first-years revealed the depth of the experiences that Hoyas have been through. I had always viewed Georgetown students as perfect and put-together. In my small-group reflection, I realized that this was not even close to the truth. Georgetown students have many different stories to tell, and without ESCAPE, I would have missed an opportunity to learn about the diverse community we all share. I am grateful for ESCAPE because it gave me space from the hustle and bustle of Georgetown to deeply think about where I had been, where I was and where I wanted to go. As the weekend progressed and I immersed myself in the beauty of ESCAPE, the fear I lived in of not achieving that A or not getting into that club seemed to melt away. Every part of ESCAPE, from reflection to student talks to dancing the Cupid Shuffle, truly serves Georgetown’s mission of cura personalis — care for the whole person; for the first time my freshman year, I felt at total peace and unity with myself and the Hilltop.
At the end of it all, I finished my problem sets, my French exam went just fine and my history reading turned out to be pretty dull. To be honest, though, I can’t even tell you what the history readings or problem sets were about. But the one thing I do remember from that weekend is how ESCAPE changed the trajectory of my path here on the Hilltop. I recall a certain observation from Father Kevin O’Brien, S.J., about Georgetown’s Jesuit value of “contemplation in action.” He states that Georgetown students are extremely good at the “action” part, but not so much the “contemplation” part. Life at Georgetown can certainly become a rollercoaster of a ride, but I’ve learned that it’s especially important, even in moments of utter chaos, to take a step back from the madness and ruminate on the triumphs and burdens we experience daily. Taking just a moment a day to reflect has supplied me with the peace (and sanity) I need to succeed at Georgetown.
As ESCAPE embarks upon another year on the Hilltop, I continue my relationship with it, but in a different way. This year, I have the great privilege to work with 41 wonderful Hoyas to lead this year’s ESCAPE retreats. And as a leader, I want to bust a few myths that you might have heard about ESCAPE. Number one: the retreat is nondenominational, which means no matter your faith background (or lack thereof), we meet you where you are. Second, it doesn’t last the entire weekend, just 27 hours (although you’ll probably be wishing it was longer), so you’ll have plenty of time to catch up on work during the weekend. And finally, this is not a camping trip. So if you like climate-controlled comfort, fear not, because the Calcagnini Contemplative Center is gorgeously modern and probably nicer than your dorm. And yes, all of those wonderful things you’ve heard about the homecooked meals: they’re true.
Georgetown can often seem like a never-ending flurry of activity and work, so if you’re a freshman or transfer searching for how to make the most of your first year at Georgetown, I have just one piece of advice for you: ESCAPE the Hilltop.
Daniel Wassim is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.
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