Smithies Worldwide: Preparing for Study Abroad

Christina Vara '16 Contributing Writer

The Lewis Global Studies Center is as silent as a grave now — a sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of last semester and the beginning of this year. It was quite a sight when I first walked into the office to look for my programs as a sophomore last spring: Tables and couches were crammed with Smithies, binders open and papers disheveled. Students were frantically researching programs for study abroad, signing up to talk with a student or an international advisor and hoping that their name wouldn’t be at the bottom of the list for long. It was like an academic war zone.

I spent weeks pulling binders off the shelves, scouring pages for interesting programs and universities. As an English major, there were only so many programs I could attend, and I found myself looking at study abroad options in the United Kingdom. I settled on two. After picking the schools I wanted to apply to, a new wave of anxiety washed over me, and no matter how many times I dried off, I still felt soaked. I was worrying about everything: my grades, oh God, what would happen if my GPA dropped? What would happen if I got into the programs? Would I pack too much? Too little? Was I going to be broke by the time I came home? The more I worried, the worse I felt. I had doubts of even applying to study abroad, that if I was rejected it was because I wasn’t good enough. It was like applying to Smith all over again.

Then it hit me, and almost instantly I felt better than I had in weeks: I just had to calm down and believe in myself. I couldn’t possibly worry about things that were out of my control, and I had no reason to doubt my abilities; after all, I had gotten into Smith. I found that talking to other students and the international advisors about their experiences helped me recover my confidence and get excited about the prospect of studying abroad. “It was amazing,” Krithika Venkataraman ’15, who studied abroad at University College London last Spring, said. “I made so many new friends while I was at UCL, and I felt more comfortable studying in London because I’m used to living in the city. They even had an app that showed a map of the campus. When I needed to go somewhere I would type in where I wanted to go and it would tell me how to get there without getting lost.”

“I packed way too much,” Angie Schondek ’15 said after studying all of last year in Italy. “I had such a wonderful time, and the food was absolutely amazing. They had handmade pasta that was to die for. I definitely miss it; I wish I was still there.”

Hearing their experiences allowed me to cometo terms with my fears, and it helped me bond with other students who were going abroad too. Liz McCormack ’16 was ecstatic when she learned that she was going abroad to study at UCL this Spring. “I applied over the summer so that I could get an early answer, and when I heard that I got accepted it was surreal,” she said. “I’m also just really happy that I’ll know people from Smith who are going to UCL too; it’s always nice when you have someone you know studying at the same school as you.”

Although I was not accepted into one school for this spring and am awaiting an answer from the other, I haven’t lost hope. The Smithies I have spoken to have given me my confidence back, and there isn’t anything I would have rather have done than try. And if I’m not meant to study abroad this year, I always have next year, and if I don’t go, I will always have my new family at Smith. Applying for study abroad programs is frustrating, but it’s also rewarding. Money might be tight, or family emergencies may come up, but whatever obstacles do arise, it never hurts to try and to believe in yourself.