Study Abroad And The Smith Bubble

PHOTO BY HIRA HUMAYUN ’17 | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Smith students abroad have new opportunities to enjoy the beauty of other places, such as this fountain in Barcelona.

Photo By Hira Humayun ’17 | Smith students abroad have new opportunities to enjoy the beauty of other places, such as this fountain in Barcelona.

Sidney Lu ’17
Contributing Writer

Back to Smith means new beginnings for first years and returning students, and this certainly includes students returning from semesters abroad.

The decision of whether or not to study abroad is a choice many students face halfway through their time at Smith, and often times it is a difficult one to make. While the reasons students choose to study abroad vary widely from academic to personal pursuits, it is undeniable that the decision to travel to a different country, often an unfamiliar one, is a big decision that has significant impact on students’ lives and futures. As Smith is considered a safe and familiar place similar to home for many students, it may be a daunting task to leave, even if only for a single semester. Perhaps this is why study abroad brings conflicting feelings of both excitement and fear — yet, departing the Smith Bubble may bring both relief and anxiety to a potential study abroad student.

After being at Smith for a while, many students report feeling as if the Smith environment has become their entire world, often getting caught up in the discourse and drama that comes with living in a tight-knit community.

While the “Smith Bubble” may have varying definitions to different people, it could have either negative or positive connotations depending on one’s perspective and opinion. For example, while I certainly enjoy the familiarity and sense of security the Smith Bubble provides me and was anxious about leaving this safe space, I also found study abroad to be an excellent opportunity to burst out of this bubble and learn things about myself through new experiences and meet different people. In fact, while the Smith Bubble gives students a sense of comfort and home, I believe that getting out of Smith and being reminded of what else is out there is just as important.

While many students see their study abroad experiences as opportunities to progress academically and intellectually, I found my experience to be fulfilling on a more personal level. Last semester I had the privilege of studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia. Although it is also an English-speaking country, I found the differences in both the local culture and university life to be especially crucial to my own personal growth. While I was certainly anxious about leaving the Smith Bubble, I soon found my study abroad to be a way of “resetting” myself, both intellectually and emotionally. Specifically, engaging with a bustling metropolis and the students who attend a larger university there opened my eyes to a much wider and diverse way of life than the Smith Bubble could provide. Through attending university in a much more independent level and learning to survive largely by myself, I realized that I could be so much more than the person I was back at Smith.

Breaking out of the confines of the bubble allowed me to depart from not only the physical environment of Smith, but also from the generally accepted ways and rules of campus. After spending a lot of time at Smith, I found myself becoming more and more similar to those around me. While that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, study abroad helped me break out of that shell and explore parts of me that I did not know existed. By putting myself in an unfamiliar and frankly scary situation, I learned not only to become more independent and self-confident, but also how to interact with people outside of the Smith community. Through these experiences, I realized how insignificant some of my problems really were back at Smith as a result of getting blown up by the overall competitiveness and seriousness of the environment. I learned to not only have fun and let loose, but also to be selective about issues that I should be serious about. After learning how to focus my attention on the things that truly matter to me instead of letting them overwhelm me, I became a much happier and open-minded person overall.

As a senior whose excitement and glow from study abroad has yet to wear off, I feel that my return to Smith has been a bit anti-climactic in comparison to the amazing semester I just had. Yet, at the end of the day, I am still incredibly happy and relieved to be back at campus for my final year of college. Despite the fun I had abroad, Smith provides a sense of familiarity and comfort for me. Although I have explored different parts of myself abroad, my identity at Smith is nevertheless still me, and being able to go back to people who understand and support that identity is a very precious thing to have. While I was definitely lucky to have had the opportunity to study abroad, I was also reminded of how lucky I am to be a Smith student. Each place has its perks, but I know I still belong here.

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