Community and Connections Abroad

I am in awe of how quickly my first week has gone by. Currently, I am writing from Grindelwald, Switzerland. Just a couple days back, we were in Barcelona, Spain. Throughout my trip I will have the opportunity to visit five different countries, and we are quickly approaching our half-way point.

Before I continue, I should fill you in on a few things. This is not the first time I have experienced study abroad. As an undergraduate I spent eight weeks in London as an intern – during that time I was always busy and it was harder for me, I think, to take it all in. I enjoyed my first time abroad and will always be grateful for those experiences. I am viewing this current trip as a time for me to recognize that I need to be more conscious and self-aware of my role as a traveler, not just so I can fit in, but also so that I can genuinely soak up the scene and better appreciate all aspects of this opportunity.

Barcelona and Grindelwald are beautiful and exciting, but in very different ways. It is hard to say I enjoyed my time in one over the other because they are so different. Barcelona was a busy, bustling city – so much to see and there were always people out and about. In comparison, Grindelwald is calm with less noise and a much smaller population. Grindelwald is also probably the most beautiful place I have ever seen. On our second night here, my friend Courtney and I were standing outside our lodge, and she said, “ What is this – I swear we are in a postcard right now”. Here, I feel very appreciative and connected to the natural world.

While I could continue to rave about all the beautiful sites I have seen and the experiences I have had in Barcelona and Grindelwald. I would rather take some time to talk about little moments in which I have formed relationships with those around me. Building connection and community among our group has been important to me – and for anyone travelling with a group, sometimes making the connections takes a little time.

I have been travelling with a group of 40 people, it is a nice mixture of my colleagues in the graduate program, undergraduate students and our faculty leaders. I will be honest, navigating the dynamics in the first couple days posed difficult. There was tension – mainly between the groups of students. We hated the tension and all began to make better attempts to bridge the gap. By the time we got to Switzerland, things really took a positive turn. The environment in this peaceful little town of Grindewald really contributed to building a sense of community among us.

On our second night here, we all had dinner together in our lodge. It felt kind of like camp in a way. Some of the students cooked and we all sat down together in a relaxed, homey environment. It was probably the greatest night for the entire group, and since then I can only imagine and hope this sense of community will strengthen as we venture to our next three cities.

While I appreciate the community among our entire group and the releasing of so much tension, it has also been of great importance for me to feel comfort with the women of my graduate cohort. I have known them all since the fall semester and truly respect each and every one of them, but this is the largest amount of time most of us have spent together. This trip, from our first few nights in Barcelona, has brought us closer together as a cohort. Rooming with these women, you would think we might be at each other’s throats, but we have really developed a bond and greater respect for one another. Sometimes travelling can bring out the worst in people, but I think it has brought out the best in us.

As we travel we have a tendency to focus on all the things we see, all the activities we are doing and maybe the locals we meet. But I think sometimes we lose sight of the relationships and importance of the connections we make with one another. I am grateful for the beautiful moments I have had in Barcelona and Grindelwald, but my favorite moments are the ones where I simply feel connected to those around me.

It is in these shared experiences that we really learn the most about ourselves.

Chandler Alford is pursuing a master’s degree in communication. This summer she is on a faculty-led program to Barcelona, Grindelwald, Munich, Prague and Budapest

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