Tag Archives: reflection

Reflections on the Mountain School: 2 Years and Counting


It is striking how often my time at The Mountain School comes to mind. The most salient of my memories from Vershire have yet to fade or fracture even the slightest. But, more importantly, neither have my friendships. In fact, they seem to have deepened since our semester’s end in the December of 2013 even though my particular circumstances were anything but traditional. I was unable, until recently, to reunite with my comrades regularly because an ocean and a continent stood in my way. My residence at the time, you see, was that mildly famous port city of Shanghai.

I often wonder why it is that unlike so many of my other relations, which dissipated rather swiftly when challenged by the Atlantic, my Mountain School friendships emerged from the confrontation stronger. The answer is intimately linked with the type of culture incubated at The Mountain School: one that extinguishes restraint and guardedness from the process of relationship building. The impermanence and transience of the experience forces a raw connection. If one hopes to have a meaningful “Mountain School experience,” one cannot simply passively await an intimacy with peers, teachers, ideas, or the Green Mountains. That sort of intimacy must be earned. Effort, of course, is necessary, but more important is risk. Vulnerability.

At the Mountain School, I tried to always present myself as exactly who I was because I didn’t have time to be anybody else. I sense that my fellow Mountain Schoolers did the same. Unparalleled mutually assured authenticity — that’s why my Mountain School friendships, even though they were developed in only four months, are stronger than any other friendships I formed in high school.


The Mountain School, more than anything, was the perfect opportunity to escape the grip of traditional dogmatic education. I wanted something more from school. I wanted to struggle with the complexity of systems, the reconciliation of contradictory identities, and with “my place in the family of things,” to borrow from Mary Oliver.

The Mountain School taught me to delineate various forms of learning: the acquisition and application of practical skills, the quest for abstract truth, the search for personal truth, and the development of a cross-disciplinary factual foundation. The objective-oriented, percentage-worshipping environment that I had spent two years immersed in ignored the first three forms of learning and focused obsessively on the last. Important as a factual foundation is, an unhealthy fixation with it can silently and subconsciously kill off any “passion for learning.” It was a love that I did not even know I had lost until I began to regain it at the Mountain School, delivering Wordsworth from Library Hill, listening to Back Brook tell her story, and spending long hours discussing the nature of legacy only to arrive at no particular conclusion.

The Mountain School stresses personal truth as an individual lens through which to interpret abstract truth. A factual foundation merely informed these truths. Nothing more. Practical skills — work ethic, trust, task completion, dependability — are developed through the labor program and supplemented our intellectual growth with simultaneous character and community building.

This pedagogy has impacted me so much so that I’ve based my gap year upon it, building a school in San Francisco influenced, in part, by Mountain School values.

The learning, I should add, was the most difficult part of my transition home. I never did readjust to the teaching philosophies my home school engaged in. It’s ok though; I never wanted to.


A friend from the Mountain School asked me an interesting question the other day: “How do you think living in a world where it is increasingly difficult to see the stars changes us?”

I said: “Historically, stargazing has been intimately linked with developing man’s capacity for wonder, dream and imagination. So maybe the decreased visibility of stars correlates with a decrease in wonder and imagination.”

Here was my friend’s answer: “Some people say that the stars are phenomena that make us feel smaller. So, I suppose we are slowly losing perspective on our mortality. But I don’t always feel unimportant and perishable when I look at the stars. Instead I feel in love with nothing in particular. When a sky is covered with stars, I fall in love a million times over by looking up.”

It’s hard to quite explain in exact terms the feeling one has in rural Vermont while looking out across an endless expanse of rolling hills, treetops tinted by sunset, or stars in the night sky. Staring into the face of a mountain that was born from continental collision is not only humbling but also intensely unsettling. It’s odd, though, because simultaneously, one “falls in love with nothing in particular a million times over.” Somehow, the human habit of curiosity begins to take hold. How vast is this universe really? How far does my affection travel? The true infinity of possibility sets in.

Now that I think of it, there does exist a term for this feeling: inspiration.

Nature is inspiring. The Mountain School reminded me of this.

Final Thoughts:

As far as I can tell, for the intrepid few who dare journey to Vershire, The Mountain School orients us towards a life of authenticity rather than superficiality, self-fulfillment rather than external validation, and inspiration rather than egotism and apathy.

In retrospect, I keep being drawn to the same conclusion: The Mountain School was, is, and always will be, a necessary part of my life.

-P.R. F’13

The transition home

They say that all good things must come to an end. Even one’s time at the Mountain School. Four months. A definitive and inflexible time period. It’s odd that this mantra is so popular given how little comfort or insight it provides. Why do all good things come to an end? And what are we supposed to when that happens?

I remember when I was a student at the Mountain School that the impending end of the semester filled me with a sense of doom. I was afraid I would never again find a place where I felt so happy, fulfilled and challenged every day. When I brought it up, my dorm parent told me, “I know it’s sad to leave, but we can’t all stay here forever and grow old and collect cats. You have to take what you learn here and bring it to the world. The point of the Mountain School is that you go home.” Intellectually, I knew he was right, but it didn’t particularly help, and it was several years before I was able to really accept his words.

For many people, the transition home is challenging in some regard, and everyone handles it differently. To illustrate the range of experiences, here are six graduates reflecting on what it was like to return to their homes and home schools after four months in this unique and beautiful place:

*          *          *          *          *          *

“I have found that the transition back to my school has had about an equal number of negatives as positives, but the experience of Mountain School was definitely still worth it. The hardest thing for me was that my really good friend, who I expected to be totally there and helpful in my transition wasn’t. Now, since then I have realized that she isn’t really a great friend in general, so now I have had the opportunity to stretch myself and make many new friends. I have met some really awesome people this way that I would have never met otherwise. So things like that can happen but the Mountain School made me so much stronger and more independent so I have found that that friend was almost tying me down and now I am doing things I love and wouldn’t have done with her. If I had known exactly what would happen when I got back to school after TMS before going I would still go without hesitation.” -KG

“To whoever you are that is so lucky to have this opportunity – do not pass this up. I completely understand any worries you may have about reentry into your home school after a fall semester. That was my biggest concern before going into it as well. I can’t tell you that it’s been easy. There have been mornings when I broke down in tears as I was leaving my house, dreading going to school. That also happened in the car, and most memorably in the shower, which was definitely a weird experience. I felt lonely, as if I had no friends here, and that school was the most excruciating thing in the world. There’s no point in telling you that it was immediately enjoyable. But please, please don’t freak out. That was my experience, and it got so much better. In perspective, it’s actually been nice to have school as a way to transition back. It provided structure to my day, a place to see people again, and opportunities for work to take my mind off the fact that I wasn’t in Vershire. It will be different for everyone, but in my case it was a matter of putting myself out there, letting myself have good times with people at home without feeling guilty for not missing TMS all the time. You will be in control of your transition. It will go how you want it to go, as long as you don’t hide in your school’s library, finishing all your homework by 4:30. As much as I tried, that doesn’t work. Don’t miss the opportunity of a lifetime because of a fear that the few weeks after will be a challenge. There will be bigger challenges at TMS that you’ll manage. Go for the apples, for the night sky, for the harvest. Go for solo, for Find Your Way Back, for learning to know a place. Go for the people you will meet, for the experiences you will have that will shape who you are as a person. Spending your fall there will be worth it, and will equip you for whatever may come. Congratulations, you don’t yet know how lucky you are.” -HJ

“I would not worry about the transition. For me it was incredible. I think that no matter where you are or who you are, your close friends will welcome you back with open arms. They will have missed you and will be happy to see you again. As for the social scene, that also wasn’t a problem. My grade re-integrates kids seamlessly-with a small single sex high school in NYC that’s bound to happen. People were happy that I was back and didn’t prod me with questions like I was a novelty exhibit. Generally coming back I felt more comfortable being me and enjoying the shenanigans my grade does. I find myself making new friends I wouldn’t have otherwise. Simply put, your school and the scene around it will accept you back. It is up to you to be happy within it, and within yourself, to take back your place simply by being yourself.” -DG

“Background: I go to an all girls private school in NYC. It is exactly what you think it would be like. Coming back for me has been surprisingly easy. I left for Mountain School hating my home school, really disliking most of the girls in my grade — feeling stuck and disconnected. Upon returning I realize that I actually really love my school and the girls in my grade have changed. They are less catty, more mature and a lot friendlier. I came back to more friends than I left with. My closest friends have been my support system and have been there to listen to my stories and to distract me when I want to stop thinking about Mountain School. I think coming back can go three ways: 1) You become overwhelmed, feel lost and begin to get really nostalgic for the place and the people; 2) You are overwhelmed and because you feel disconnected you begin to isolate yourself which translates into hating Mountain School and the school you go to now; or 3) You have a really nice, easy transition and have no feelings of regret or sadness. Personally, I experienced all three of these. I came back at first feeling overwhelmed, feeling like I had too much time on my hands, and wanting to just talk about Mountain School. Then when the stories got repetitive, the work picked up, I was finally back in school and was feeling overwhelmed with the influx of questions about my transition. I felt isolated, even among all of the “support” and began to almost hate the place. Now, after some distance, time, and constructive advice sessions, I have come to love both places. That looming sense of nostalgia is clearing up but the anger about not being there is not taking over my happy memories. Coming back is a process. It will have its ups and downs, and will be scary. There is not formula for doing it right, but here are some tips: have an open mind – people change and so did you, talk to people you haven’t seen in a while, don’t always talk about Mountain School, don’t dwell on not being there, write letters and stay in touch but don’t be afraid to go inward and reflect, work hard and don’t lose the energy you bring back with you, be constructive with your free time and do things that make you happy.” -MC

“I was the kid at the Mountain School who dreaded when there were only two weeks left. Who cried when my parents came to visit. Who refused to keep in touch with any of my home friends while I was away. I wanted to be fully at TMS, and to be honest, a part of me just wanted to be anywhere but home. With that being said, it is easy to magnify your feelings about home life vs. TMS life when you’re at such an amazing place. I started to associate everything at home as bad because I was the happiest I had ever been during my semester. For example, I now had my “best TMS friends” vs. my “horrible home friends.” And my parents weren’t there and I felt free without them, while at home they were there and made me feel claustrophobic. I definitely made things black and white in my head, even though I actually have a great relationship with my parents and like my home school. But the point of this isn’t to say that you should or shouldn’t do that because I don’t think there is a right answer to how you should approach your view of home when you’re at TMS. The point of this is to say that the idea of going home for me felt like the Mountain School utopia I had lived in would shatter, and I would be forced to reenter harsh reality. But the truth is, home doesn’t change when you’re away. Most people are still friends with the same people. Most people are doing the same weekend activities. Your room still looks the same and you still know how you like your books organized on your desk. Your home is your home. And you will always know it no matter how long you are away from it. Because as much time – as much valuable and significant time- as you spend at TMS, you have spent more at home. And you will suddenly just get back into your routine, but with a little more awareness time: whether it be for people, the environment, or school work. And that new awareness will only serve you well with your transition back home. So don’t let the idea of transitioning steer you away from the Mountain School. Don’t let the “fear of missing out” and having to settle back in faze you too much. At the end of the day, you get the chance to be pulled out of the familiar world you live in that you will always know, and be thrown into the most exotic, surreal, and uncomfortable place that you will learn to love and take care of.” -JF

“The transition back home is not a completely smooth one. You are no longer the exact puzzle piece you were when you left, so you may have to find a new way of fitting into your old place or find a new place all together, However, your experiences at the Mountain School will prepare you for this very well.” -LS