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The power of low expectations

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

When I arrived in Stockholm a month ago for study abroad I suddenly found myself with a lot more free time than I was used to. Even though I am still in four classes I didn’t have my extra-curricular activities and wasn’t constantly surrounded by the “If you aren’t studying, what are you doing?” attitude that plagues Swarthmore’s campus. It was possible for me to do well in my classes and not spend all of my time studying. I was confused, everyone had told me that study abroad is the chance of a lifetime. When else are you going to have the opportunity to the opportunity to spend four months living abroad? I began to feel like every second of my day had to be filled with life-changing experiences.

I imagine this feeling of “Why am I not having the time of my life?” is what many people feel when they first go off to college. In a way, starting college is similar to study abroad: college is often touted as the best four years of your life, so when people get to college and realize that it isn’t all fun they probably have similar issues.

But I arrived at Swarthmore with quite low expectations. Before I left for college one of my older cousins told me “everyone tells you college is the best four years of your life, but no one tells you it takes time to get to that point.” She was referencing the fact that it takes time to settle into college and find a routine that works for you; for whatever reason, this really stuck with me.

When I arrived on campus, I was prepared for low points. I knew that I would spend most of my time studying. and it would take time to be able to find the things on campus that really made me happy. It was probably these low expectations that helped make my first semester at Swarthmore bearable.

Unfortunately, I did not have the same expectations going into study abroad. I was determined that this was going to be my chance to have fun and be adventurous. I first realized this wasn’t true when I woke up on my first free Saturday morning after orientation and realized I had no plans for the daytime. I started panicking that I was wasting a whole day. What was I supposed to do with all this time? At Swarthmore I would sleep in until 11 a.m., eat Sharples brunch, and study before Saturday night, but all of those activities seemed like an utter waste of time. After all, I am only here for four months. I can’t spend all my time ~studying~.

After some forced self-reflection (i.e., talking to my mother) I realized that this mindset was not sustainable. My mother reminded me that I am here for four months, and if I am going to survive this experience, I need to pace myself. I need to sleep, relax, study, and do things that I enjoy at home or at school as well as abroad. I need to find a balance between taking advantage of opportunities here that I don’t have back home and making sure I am taking care of myself.

For the past two weeks or so, I have been reminding myself of this fact every time I worry that I am not doing enough. Yes, I am abroad and yes, this is a fantastic experience. But this isn’t an extended vacation. I am here to live and learn about another culture. It is important to realize that even the everyday things here are an opportunity for me to learn and immerse myself in the culture. Taking my headphones out while on my morning commute and listening to mumblings in Swedish or sitting in a coffee shop observing those around me may not be the kind of exciting study abroad stories I thought I was going to get, but that does not mean they are not valuable. Taking the time to slow down and experience all the new things around me will help me get the study abroad experience I want.

I know that everyone goes into study abroad with different goals, but I want to know what it is like to live in another country for four months. I want to know what my life would look like if I lived here. And I don’t need to have every minute of every day filled with life-changing events for me to achieve that.

For those of you who are worried about whether or not you are getting enough out of study abroad or even college in general, it is important to take a step back and think about what your goals are and what you need to do to reach them. Everyone’s goals will be a little bit different and therefore everyone’s experience should be different. You don’t need to try to mold your experience to match someone else’s or to look like what you think society says it should look like.

Swat-sgiving, and why thankfulness matters

in Columns/Opinions/Words of Wagner by

Swarthmore can be overwhelming and tiring. Classes are often difficult, and sometimes campus feels like a rat-race. Sometimes, I get to Sharples and just cannot bring myself to wait in the line for the bar I want, and so I settle for a less satisfactory alternative. Sometimes I miss the shuttle from PPR to campus by less than a minute. Sometimes I do make it onto the evening shuttle, only to be taken to Mary Lyons and then back to campus before going back to PPR. Waking up in the morning is hard after staying up doing work. There is an endless litany of complaints about Swarthmore, far beyond the ones that I have listed here. But I was recently reminded about how lucky I am to go here by a pizza delivery driver at 1:00a.m. on Halloween weekend. When I met the delivery driver in the PPR circle, he mentioned how great of a school Swarthmore is and how I am fortunate to get to go here. I looked up towards campus, took it all in, thanked him, and agreed that I am so, so lucky.

As the holiday season progresses, I think it is important that we, as a community, take a moment to take stock of what we’re thankful for. Thanksgiving itself can be tough, travelling with family can be difficult, and returning home and seeing people from high school is often awkward. And presumably, there are some first-years that tried to make a long-distance relationship work who are going to be both victims and perpetrators of the infamous dump-sgiving festivities. Despite all of that, it’s a built-in day of the year to look around and take in the best parts of life. Thanksgiving is one week from today, but thankfulness should be something we practice every day.

While every person faces a unique set of personal challenges ranging in magnitude, thankfulness is something that many people can benefit from. I forced myself to become an optimist in my early teens by filling a jar with at least one good thing that happened to me that day written on an index card, and my outlook on life changed permanently. Being thankful for the most trivial things in my life made me happier. Was I lowering the bar for things that brought me joy? I quite possibly was, but getting excited about small accomplishments and casual events increased my average level of joy. Thankfulness is not a panacea; it cannot improve situations that are outside of one’s immediate control, but it can be comforting to many, and is something that we often forget. Thankfulness can change the way we see the world, and in its best form, can soften the blow of disappointments and increase the joy of success. Even on my worst days, I am trained to look for one good thing and harness it so any day can be positive. There is no one person, thing, or activity that we should be thankful for, so we should all look for many things that we can be thankful for. Life is not just the big successes, life happens in the small moments, so when we don’t let ourselves enjoy the small things that make us happy because they don’t fit in with what we typically see as success, we can lose out on life.

Life is messy, and it is often full of surprises. Sometimes, we don’t do as well as we wanted on assignments; other times we do better than expected. We have bad weeks, good days, rough moments, and happy times. There are certainly times when we don’t have to be thankful, people that we don’t have to be grateful to, and experiences that just really bring us down. What makes graditude beautiful is that it is entirely determined by an individual and is for that individual. Of course, those that we are thankful to appreciate graciousness and many deserve it, but the real benefits of thankfulness are inherent in our own selves. Determining one’s own thankfulness helps fill the soul with warmth and lets a person create their own happiness, regardless of outside expectations and naysayers.

I am thankful for every time that I wake up and start a new day, and every time I make it to the morning shuttle in time and can skip a chilly walk to campus. Any time that Sci Center still has my favorite kind of bagel when I get to the front of the line fills me with a sense of contentment that I have trained myself to feel and enjoy. I like to look on the bright side of life because, if I don’t, my life would be taken over by problem sets and papers, and while there is no one way to cope with the rigor of Swarthmore, we’re pretty damn lucky to be here, and reminding ourselves of that, right along with the tiny successes and moments of bliss, can maybe help us all keep it together just a little bit more as the second round of midterms hits right before Thanksgiving.

Finding empathy

in Columns/Opinions/Staff Editorials by

This Sunday, the country witnessed yet another instance of mass violence. The shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas left 26 people dead and many more injured. Once again, we saw headlines of including the phrase “one of the most deadly attacks.” News publications increasingly use this line to describe massacres, such as the Las Vegas shooting on October 1 leaving 58 people dead or the October 31st New York City attack that killed eight people.

Around campus, however, this line seems to have lost its gut-punch feeling. Monday morning, for most of us, was just another day on campus. Students, staff, and faculty followed their regular routines. Some community members were unaware of the terrible attack that occurred just 24 hours prior, and few lost breath over it. These attacks have turned the lives of thousands upside down and scarred towns. Yet for us, life keeps going.

Anyone who watches the news will be able to tell you that it will often leave you feeling hopeless or depressed. This has caused many of us to lower our news consumption or compartmentalize the extreme things that we read about. This is dangerous. We cannot let these things become normal.

We cannot let these events paralyze us but we need to recognize the magnitude of what this country, and world, is experiencing. We need to recognize that the 26 people who died on Sunday and the countless victims of other attacks are more than just a CNN notification that pops up on our phones.

We need to find a balance between pretending these events never happened and letting them control our lives. This may look different for everyone. Some people may choose to get more involved with politics. Others may want to get more involved on a personal level and find some way to support the victims. Both of these options are valid responses to the terrible events that we keep seeing.

We know that it is impossible to give each news story the attention it probably deserves. You cannot donate to every fund or spend all day calling your congressman. That isn’t reasonable. What is reasonable is to take a few minutes every day to recognize the impact that these events have had on people and think about what you can to do help.

This college prides itself on being a social justice campus. We hold protests and vigils for many events, yet ignore so many others.

We recognize that, unfortunately, holding a collection or a vigil for every mass death would be impossible. But having a conversation about what happened with a friend at dinner is not. Reading about the stories figuring out what happened humanizing the victims is possible.  

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