How does it feel for Smithies when they return from the adventures that others only glimpsed through social media? I’ve never felt more excited to be back on campus than I do as a senior after a year abroad. True, I hardly know anyone on campus, and it was daunting to see so many new faces here. But, because it is my last year, I have nothing to fear. Why? Because I am prepared to make the most of my experience at Smith and enjoy myself as much as I can before graduating. I asked five Smithies about what surprised them when they came back to Smith, what they missed (both at Smith and while studying abroad) and highlights of their time abroad.
1. “Adjusting back to Smith and its quiet demeanor has been hard to come back to because everything was so accessible in London.” Naina Zaman ’16 - London, U.K. Northampton offers a lot to its residents and accommodates different lifestyles; but, living in a huge city has its merits.
2. “[After studying abroad,] I feel like I have outgrown Smith. The idea of being on a campus, eating at the same dining halls, walking no more than 10 minutes to get to class all seems so limiting and confining after living in a big city for a full year.” Eleana Thompson ’16 – London, U.K. Studying abroad means you have the opportunity to explore a new city and find tiny cafés, charming bars or street markets to visit. Sometimes returning to campus can be daunting, and it’s no myth that there is an adjustment period coming back. Studying abroad prepares us for a life outside of Smith, so it’s only natural that coming back can pose challenges.
3. “It’s nice to know Smith takes care of Smithies with food. After having to cook for myself for a year, [I don’t have to] worry about making food, with ice cream socials and other fun activities on campus.” Elise Smith ’16 – Geneva, Switzerland. We all get excited about living alone and think about decorating our future homes, but the reality is it’s not as easy as we make it out to be. Cooking for ourselves everyday seems thrilling at first, but you soon realize you need to plan your meals out a day in advance. Learning to grocery shop while managing your own finances is a bit more difficult than simply buying cereal and milk.
4. “I miss hearing other languages being spoken around me.” Elise Smith ’16 – Geneva, Switzerland. The people in the countries you may travel to do not always speak English on a daily basis. Becoming accustomed to a foreign language is amazing.
5. “[I miss having] a beautiful city as [my] backdrop. Whether going to classes, shopping, running errands, etc., I am surrounded by historic monuments. [It was] as though I was living in a movie.” Yvonne Ho ’16 – Paris, France. It’s almost surreal to walk past Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, Buddhist temples and other historic and monumental locations every day! Take advantage of traveling while studying abroad because these opportunities might not come again. You learn by losing your wallet, getting pickpocketed, diving off of cliffs, meeting strangers at hostels and just simply having fun with your friends in a new place. Getting lost is not always bad! Hey, you never know; you may come upon some place or someone you will remember forever.
6. “Discovering new arts and cuisine. There were so many restaurants in Paris that we could try something new everyday.” Yvonne Ho ’16 – Paris, France. This is applicable to not only Paris, but to other cities as well! Living in a new country means stepping out of the same old food we have and trying something exotic, whether that includes scorpions in Thailand or escargots in Paris.
7. “[I am] happy to be back to the Smith teaching style and academia.” Meghna Purkayastha ’16 – Costa Rica Going abroad means studying at universities with different teaching methods and styles. Whether it is your preferred type of learning or not, you learn to adjust and come to understand your strengths and weaknesses in new settings.
8. “It’s been hard to explain and fully vocalize what I went through. You can only say so much when people ask ‘How was study abroad?’” Meghna Purkayastha ’16 – Costa Rica. How does one tell others about her experience? You realize that even if you try to convey your thoughts, your message won’t always translate effectively. Because of this multitude of changes, we can’t entirely vocalize what this reflection means to us in concise words.
9. “I missed my Smithies and the empowering environment for women at Smith.” Elise Smith ’16 – Geneva, Switzerland. Smith provides a space for us to develop our thoughts. It is our safe place to grow by expressing new ideas without societal pressures and burdens. Studying abroad makes us appreciate the environment we are in and the knowledge that Smithies will support one another through our learning process.
10. “I learned how to take ownership and responsibility over my study abroad experience and, more importantly, my own life.” Quyen Nguyen ’16 – Tokyo, Japan. Studying abroad forces you to fall, pick yourself up and fall again. It’s like a teaser for your post-grad life, giving you an opportunity to understand who you are as a 20 year old by throwing you unexpected surprises.