One of the most common phenomena discussed on campus is that of the “Amherst Bubble.” It refers to our ability to be hyperware of the issues on our campus but ignorant to those beyond it. Though this is often referred to as more of a mental bubble, the “bubble” can take a very physical form. It’s very easy to fall into a pattern of going to classes, to Val, visiting your friends in their dorms, going to parties and events on campus, and not venturing far out of that comfortable pattern. But with so much close by, popping the bubble is worth it, at least every once and awhile.
The easiest way to get off campus is to explore the incredible nature we have mere minutes from the First-Year Quad. If you head down Memorial Hill, walk past the tennis courts and keep walking, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a series of trails for walking and biking. There’s even a bike trail that goes all the way to Hampshire Mall! But even without a bike, you can walk around the Bird Sanctuary and check out the Book and Plow Farm. It’s a great place to go if you just need a break on one of Amherst’s particularly stressful days. It’s a good outing for a group of friends or a chance to take some time for yourself. You can also work on the Book and Plow farm, if you want to get more involved. There’s a small pond and more trails across the railroad tracks by the Powerhouse that are worth exploring as well, and if you have access to a car (or rent one from the AAS), there’s plenty of great hiking in the area, such as on both Mt. Sugarloaf and the Notch.
Another way to venture beyond Amherst is to make use of the Five-Colleges. Even if you don’t take a class at one (which you should!), go to a lecture at one of the other campuses, get involved in a club that works with another campus, or at the very least talk to the other Five-College students you’ll inevitably end up having in your classes. Each campus is unique, with their own vibrant school cultures, and each is worth getting to know. Most events on each campus, whether that be a lecture, club meeting, or event, are open to all Five College students. Some of the events I’ve enjoyed most on our neighboring campuses are the Five College Model UN (FCMUN) conference, at Mt. Holyoke, and Deathfest, a newcomer-friendly roleplaying tournament held every semester at Hampshire College. But on any given week, I guarantee that there will be an event of interest in the valley beyond our campus.
Beyond the Pioneer Valley, we have two of the largest metropolitan hubs in the US, with both Boston and New York City, only a bus ride away, along with relatively easy access to most of the East Coast. Whether you go to visit old friends from high school studying in the area, or go with a group of people from Amherst, many of the east coast’s large cities have plenty to offer. New York City has some of the best museums in the world in the MoMA and MET, and you can always try and get cheap same-day theater tickets to go see a show on Broadway. And in Boston, New York, and other cities, there are big events continually happening. Whether that’s something like New York Comic Con or a concert with your favorite band, these are things that are accessible to us. The logistics of planning a trip to a larger city are more extensive than trips in the Pioneer Valley, but not unmanageable.
For transportation, the two bus options I’ve used are Peter Pan and Megabus. Both are relatively cheap, but Megabus can have some very low prices if you order well in advance. However, Megabus only picks up and drops off from Hampshire Mall, while Peter Pan stops in Amherst Center, practically on campus. Depending on when you’re going, and how far in advance you’re planning, either could turn out to be a better option. I tend to use Peter Pan, as getting back to campus from Hampshire Mall after arriving on a late night bus can be difficult. As for housing, I think the best option is to see if you can stay with a friend. In any major city, finding a hostel or even sharing the price of a hotel with a few friends are options as well, depending on what circumstance and budget allow.
As upperclass-year students know all too well, and incoming first years will likely discover, our lives at Amherst seem to be filled with work and obligations, and in our free time, we are left with the anxieties that future work and obligation brings. So, knowing that all these great things are nearby is all and well, but what does it matter if we never get the chance to use any of them?
To that, I can only say that I think taking time away from our obligations is not only healthy, but necessary to continue to perform well academically and to be effective in extracurricular work. It is often at the times that feel most overwhelming in our lives that taking a walk in the bird sanctuary, going to a poetry slam in Northampton, or seeing some old friends in Boston for a weekend can be most helpful. We have lives independent of Amherst, and those are important too.
(Photo courtesy of Rene Rivers)