First-Year Students Arrive Early to Meet Asheville and Each Other
Before classes begin each fall, even before orientation, more than 100 first-year students get a head start on life in Asheville—hiking, canoeing and camping together, visiting museums together, and forming lasting friendships. The catalyst for all this is “Pre-Rendezblue,” a four-day program now in its fifth year.
Pre-Rendezblue has seven different programs, with different themes, including local music, food, art, literature, peoples and cultures, and more. But still the most popular program is the oldest one—the “Wilderness Experience”—which began 10 years ago and is the progenitor of the now expanded Pre-Rendezblue line-up. Experienced outdoor trip leaders guide students in four days of camping and exploration of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains on foot, boat and bike. And as an alternative to the Wilderness Experience, there is now a “Blue Ridge Sampler” program providing similar outdoor adventures for first-year students who prefer cabins to tents.
“All of the Pre Rendezblue programs have grown out of the success of the wilderness program,” said Jill Moffitt, director of student life. “Each one is different, but all of them give students a chance to learn about Asheville, learn about campus, and have a good time. They’re designed to develop a sense of belonging and a feeling of community. The most important thing is that students get a chance to form friendships before classes start."
“I’m so close to the people that I met those first four days,” said senior Dana Middleton, who took part in Pre-Rendezblue as a freshman. “I still live with one of the people from that first program.” Middleton, who has always enjoyed the outdoors, is now an experienced trip leader and helped plan this summer's Wilderness Experience and Blue Ridge Sampler along with Justin Thompson, another senior.
Before Middleton arrived at UNC Asheville her first year, she had already spent time on campus visiting older friends she knew from her home town of Morganton, just an hour away. Still, she was nervous. But not after her Pre-Rendezblue Wilderness Experience. “That’s how I made friends—I bonded with my group. When you’re backpacking with 10 people, it’s so much easier to get to know someone. I think the woods changes people—people open up a lot more and are a lot more real. The outdoor programs keep the soul in UNC Asheville.”
Middleton remembers the “ice-breaker” her trip leaders used even before the students left for the woods. Each trip leader had invented a nickname for or written a very short funny story about one of the other leaders. These were kept secret until shared with the larger group, and provided a kind of introductory “roast” of each leader. Middleton and other students planning this year’s Pre-Rendezblue use different activities but keep that same playful approach, whether the theme of their program is the wilderness, or Asheville’s food culture. For Middleton, it is a labor of love, of giving back: “That trip is something I still think about. It was the first real thing I did in college.” About 115 first-year students and 30 trip leaders are taking part in Pre-Rendezblue 2011.