Tag Archives: International Photo Contest

The Shanghai Bubble

Traveling to and living in Shanghai was an incredible experience. Adapting to a new culture and language, trying different foods and kinds of drinks, and exploring such an incredibly huge and diverse city was amazing to experience.

One of the qualities of life in China that I was most interested in experiencing for myself was the environment of the city. Flying to Shanghai, I was intrigued to see the plane land at Pudong so I could watch the air transition from clean to the quality a citizen on the ground experiences.

Due to my flight and the time change, I actually arrived in Shanghai

Shanghai at Night

When I woke up the next day, I wasn’t surprised by the sky’s lack of clouds or blue, but rather the sun itself– its normal color transformed to a hot, neon red through the lens of heavy pollution.

For the first week or so, I was captivated by this difference. I quickly downloaded an air quality app and neurotically checked it several times a day for air quality index and pm2.5 readings.

Air quality index, or AQI, is a general measure of the amount of pollution in the air. When the AQI is high, you are more likely to experience negative health effects.

At first, I strived not to go outside during poor AQI and pm2.5 periods. However, even as an Environmental Science and Policy major actively studying environmental pollution in Shanghai, I eventually became more and more used to the air, and the idea of exposing myself to it. After all, while some days were better than others, the heavy cloud encompassing Shanghai was there to stay.

Life went on for me and everyone else. Throughout the city, we all had classes, work, and our daily lives. It was a weird feeling, enjoying my time abroad in an environment I knew was slowly killing me.

Experiencing life in a city facing such a pollution crisis had an incredible impact on my perspective, even out of academics. After traveling back to the states at the end of the semester, it was odd in a way to see my fascination with pollution looking back at me in other faces– the most frequent question I was asked about living in China was how it felt living in a literally toxic environment.

It is an interesting time to travel to and study China, simply due to the current political and social climate. Simply by listening to President Donald Trump, we can hear his competitive attitude towards China.

I can sometimes hear this competitive spirit when I speak to people about China’s environmental issues. People want to hear how awful life is. How gross the air is, about food insecurity due to soil pollution, about algal blooms, or desertification. And we want to feel good about America in comparison. “Yes, maybe China is doing better economically, but think of the environment!” And, usually, the conversation stops there.

We don’t want to talk about China being the number one installer of solar panels in the world; or the government’s massive investment in to the development of solar, wind, and other renewable energy. And sometimes we don’t even want to think about how the environmental problems China is facing today are affecting and killing real people.

But most of all, we don’t think about how some regions of the US are facing similar struggles today. To travel to Shanghai, I left my family in Utah, in the midst of some of the highest AQI and pm2.5 levels we had seen in the state’s history. In fact, Salt Lake City is ranked with having the 6th worst air in the country, with an F ranking in both particulate matter and ozone pollution.

Before I left, I certainly saw families wearing face masks and had trouble seeing more than two cars ahead of me on the Interstate. I won’t lie and say our cases are as extreme, but they are far from ideal, especially with the host of reforms President Trump is already putting into place that limit environmentally friendly policies.

As an American citizen, I lack much power to influence the industries and governmental forces causing China’s environmental crisis, but we can certainly positively affect domestic examples… and there is no time more important to act than now.



Sable Liggera, ’17, is an Environmental Science and Policy and East Asian Studies Double Major. They were a Global STRIDE and spent their JYA in Shanghai, China. Last summer, they interned at NOAA’s Coral Reef  Conservation Program. They are currently a member of the Global Impressions Editorial Board.

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We Shall Meet Again, in St. Petersburg

This J-Term I traveled to Saint Petersburg, Russia — a trip that, in large part, left me with more questions than answers. I thought before departing for this trip that I would return not only with a variety of new experiences, but also with new understandings about Saint Petersburg and Russia. While to some extent, this is very true, I have also returned with many more questions and the feeling that I can no longer rely on many of my previous ideas about the world. The questions this trip has raised for me concern not only my ideas about the world, but also ideas about myself and about what “home” means. I found that many of my ideas about invisible boundaries between different countries were just that — ideas of a contrived difference.

Ultimately, spending this month in Russia made me realize that many of the ideas we have about other nations or countries or people are quite arbitrary. Many of the people I met in Russia quickly began to feel like family and Saint Petersburg itself became very much like another home. In this way, I could no longer maintain the feeling of distinction and difference that I had originally arrived with. I began to wonder — what truly distinguishes one country from another? What purpose does creating such distinctions serve? How can we see past this world of difference, both to find a shared humanity and to create meaningful connections with people? These are some of the many questions I now pose to myself and hope to reflect on further.

If there is one main takeaway I have had from this trip, however, it has not been these questions. Rather, it has been the fact that being in Saint Petersburg was, for me, not just a learning experience, but also a very personal and emotional experience. Reflecting upon my time in the city, I found that, oddly enough, nothing touched me so deeply as all these otherwise insignificant moments — spending time with our buddies laughing over silly jokes; bonding over a common love of music; doing bad song impressions during karaoke and dancing late nights at clubs; exploring back streets and metros and parks; having lunch in the HSE dining hall and sitting down with a plate of hot food; walking outside in the fresh, cold air and feeling the wind in our faces; enjoying quiet moments over dinner in hotel restaurants; talking about our lives and politics over tea and cards in underground hookah bars; learning new words in Russian and communicating successfully during impromptu trips to Georgian cafes; hearing about Uzbekistan and the other home countries of people who moved to St Petersburg; taking late walks at night and getting ice cream from grocery stores; watching as the pale sun would rise every morning on the walk to school; writing poems in hotel lobbies; feeling free and welcome and at home in a place so far from everything we know; finding that some things, like love, exist everywhere; finding that some things are common, are human.

Yet, in some ways, Saint Petersburg remains a contradiction, an enigma. I can hardly say I know this city, and even less so Russia. Perhaps the only thing I can say then is this– I am so glad to have had this small glimpse into a world that exists outside of what I previously knew.

I am glad to have found that, for a time, this city was also ours.


Enas Jahangir is a junior here at Smith college, working toward a major in Religion and a minor in Middle East Studies.  The second of three sisters, Enas was born in Islamabad, Pakistan, and hasn’t been able to stay in one place since then. With a focus on fostering new experiences, she hopes to use art and poetry as a way to connect with others and build community. As a result of her many interests, she likes to describe herself as both lit and literate. She has never taken Physics.

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A Barrier and a Bridge

Our world today is saturated with images, especially photographs, to the point where it is easy to find a place familiar without ever traveling there. There is an image of Sydney that most tourists will picture before even arriving: the bustling boatyard of the  Harbor, the distinctive white peaks of the Sydney Opera House, and the great arch of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. When I was preparing to travel to Australia, I came to realize how little I knew about Sydney beyond its landmarks. Studying art history at the University of Melbourne introduced me to a unique and complicated tradition of art in Australia that I had rarely thought about, having learned art history primarily within the Western art canon. When the time came for me to visit Sydney for the first time, I was primed to think critically about the city’s history, artistic traditions, distinctive architecture, and popular landmarks through a more informed lens.

My sister flew to Australia to spend ten days with me over Easter Break, and we embarked on a road trip from Melbourne to the Gold Coast. Our first stop was spending 24 hours in Sydney. Having studied the city through an artistic lens I was eager to explore both the city itself and the artwork the city houses in its distinguished museums. My first impression was like stepping into a living postcard. The historic harbor-side part of town, The Rocks, is within walking distance to all the aforementioned icons of the city.

Grace Cossington Smith, “The Bridge in-curve,” 1930, Tempera on Cardboard. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia. No. 1765-5.

Visiting the Sydney Harbour Bridge made me think about many discussions I had been having in my classes at the University of Melbourne. In my Australian Art class I had been learning about artists in Sydney depicting the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the 1920s and 1930s. The paintings of both Dorrit Black and Grace Cossington Smith capture the bridge’s construction in an idealistic light. The construction and the bridge itself was largely portrayed as a gleaming beacon of modern technology and innovation, even in its unfinished state – or perhaps especially in its unfinished state. It represented the future, the modern age, and the possibilities of technology. I don’t pretend to know an extensive amount about the bridge itself, but I remember thinking about these paintings as I approached the bridge in person. I thought about what it meant as a national symbol at the time, and how it continues to define Sydney’s landscape.

A popular tourist activity is climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You pay a fee to be harnessed into a track along a stairway, then spend hours walking on top of the curved arch of the bridge to reach the peak. Having seen photos from this vantage point on the internet, I know the view is breathtaking and I suspect the experience of being on the bridge is unimaginable. My sister and I chose not to climb the bridge and instead walked along the bridge’s busy highway at road level until we decided to turn around.

My sister Adrienne and I making an effort to pose with the Opera House despite the narrow window on the bridge barriers.

This allowed us to read the dedication plaques, admire the architecture from below, and see the city from over the harbor. It was still a breathtaking scene, but marred by the unavoidable fence blocking the view. Parts of the fence provide about a 6-inch gap between the stone of the bridge and the metal of the barrier, so this was our primary viewing window.

At the University of Melbourne I was taking a class on Street Art which brought up numerous questions of how people occupy, perceive, and interact with spaces. When walking across the Sydney Harbor Bridge with its massive stone masonry, imposing archways, and intricate metalwork, I was distracted by the small tags and names written in marker directly on the rusting metal, and a few locks attached to the grate with initials. This is the evidence of the human impulse to mark one’s presence in the space, leave proof of their interaction with the metal, and with the bridge. While an austere metal gate may seem unimpressive and commonplace, it was built along a major landmark whose image has become synonymous with the landscape and character of Sydney and even the country as a whole. To leave one’s mark on such a national symbol is no small act.

When I took the photograph looking through a padlocked square hinged window within the barrier on the Harbor Bridge, I was thinking about the graffiti tags and inscriptions as the residue of human interaction. I was thinking about the bridge as a national symbol and an emblem of modernity. I was also thinking about the multiplicity of perspectives and how postcard photographs can do little to capture the true experience of a place. Rather than constantly trying to avoid photographing the barrier, I used it to frame the bridge itself and the city beyond. The barrier could be read as being a visual obstacle in the photo, denying the viewer the satisfaction of a beautiful, unflawed depiction of the bridge – or from the bridge. However, the barrier too shows human connection to place, and how barriers on bridges can themselves be made into bridges between people. While I have no way of knowing the individuals whose names I read on the bridge, I knew that they had stood in the same place I was standing, seen the same view, and are a part of their own story. Despite their corporeal absence, it felt as if all our paths had crossed.


“The Bridge In-curve.” National Gallery of Victoria Collection Online. National Gallery of Victoria, n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.

“Sydney Harbour Bridge.” Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Digital Transformation Agency, 30 Mar. 2015. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.


Claire is a senior Studio Art major from Appleton, Maine. Concentrating in both photography and painting, her artwork gravitates towards using photography along with other media. She studied abroad in Melbourne, Australia for one semester in Spring of 2016. While abroad, Claire enriched her artistic practice with perspectives in Australian art, printing and collage techniques, and Melbourne’s street art scene. Claire enjoys knitting, dancing, antiquing, and nordic skiing.

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The Beauty of Tunisia in a Time of Transition

One year ago, I led a small group of nonprofit professionals to Tunisia to learn about the local NGO sector. The epicenter of the Arab Spring in 2011, Tunis at the beginning of 2016 was still feeling occasional rumbles of political instability. Widely publicized attacks on tourists at the Bardo Museum and at a beach resort in Sousse made waves through the international community, and it was with some trepidation that my group of American experts in women’s rights and disability rights traveled to Tunisia’s capital.

Tunis, we learned when we arrived, is really comprised of several historical cities that lie adjacent to one another. The medieval walled city, called the medina, was the heart of Tunis for hundreds of years. Its narrow, winding streets lead in circuitous routes in which travelers can easily lose themselves for hours. During the day, the medina is vibrant and full of life. At night, the medina is eerily silent. In this photo, taken in the late afternoon, the side streets of the medina are already starting to empty of passers-by.

Just prior to our visit at the beginning of 2016, the city of Tunis was under a curfew from sundown to sunrise due to political unrest. Though the curfew was officially lifted the day before our arrival, the habit of not being out late clearly still held among the local population. On our first night in the city, my group walked quickly through the narrow streets with guides who held lanterns and doubled as bodyguards to accompany us through the medina after dark. Though the walk was stressful, it ended with our arrival at a beautiful traditional Tunisian home where we had a lavish welcome dinner hosted by a local partner NGO. Hospitality is a major part of Tunisian culture, and our local hosts provided an incredible feast in a beautiful setting completely at odds with the tense environment outside.

Many of the traditional houses of the medina, like the one above, are beautifully decorated indoors in a way that one would never expect based on the drab outer walls seen from the street. The elites of medieval Tunis spared no expense in incorporating intricate tile and stucco work in the central courtyards of their homes. As fortunes changed over the course of colonial rule and modernization, many of the old houses became too difficult for their owners to keep simply as homes. Many were converted into restaurants like the one where we had our welcome dinner, or into guesthouses for international travelers. The historic house pictured above is now a museum of Tunisian art and architecture and the seat of the Association for the Safeguard of the Medina—an organization trying to preserve Tunisia’s unique architectural heritage for future generations.

Outside of the medina, in the adjacent French Colonial part of the city, the streets still held some life after dark. Families and couples strolled along the wide, tree-lined boulevard modeled on the Champs-Elysées or enjoyed snacks and non-alcoholic drinks in the many cafes. Alcohol is seen as a foreign luxury/vice, and is typically expensive and can be difficult to find. Our group of Americans found one of the few bars serving alcohol on the roof of a nearby hotel with a view of the opera house.  Like other historic buildings, the façade of opera house was lit to showcase the beauty of its Art Deco architecture. But appearances can be deceiving; the beautiful opera house was closed indefinitely for renovations. Just down the street from this seemingly idyllic picture, foreign embassies were guarded with tanks and barbed wire.

Just to the north of Tunis, a world away in atmosphere from both the medina and the French Colonial quarter lies an older history, a history of which many Tunisians are extremely proud.  The massive ruins of ancient Carthage, a city that was once a major political, military, and economic force in the Mediterranean, shows that Tunis was once one of the most important places in the world. Ruins of a massive ancient bathhouse and amphitheater speak to a thriving ancient civilization which many locals see as the direct antecedent to their own. As foreigners in Tunis, we were told by everyone we met that we must absolutely see Carthage, that we would not understand Tunis today if we did not understand its ancient past. With all of the uncertainties facing Tunisia in the present, the ruins of Carthage are an anchor to a time when Tunis was one of the greatest cities in the ancient world.

During our visit, the future of Tunisia seemed uncertain. The nonprofit leaders that we met with spoke of the difficulties of creating a truly representative government, providing services for marginalized communities, addressing youth unemployment, dealing with influxes of refugees from neighboring Libya…the list of challenges was long. Despite these challenges, however, our group was warmly welcomed wherever we went throughout the city. The trepidation that we felt at the beginning of our trip was unfounded, and as a group of Americans, we never once felt truly unsafe. The empty streets of the medina after dark and the barbed wire around the embassies were only tiny blemishes in an otherwise beautiful place.  In every part of the city, at every meeting with local nonprofit leaders, our group found incredible warmth and hospitality, and a very profound sense of hope.


Laura Carroll ’06 works in international development in Washington, DC. She writes and travels as often as she can possibly manage.



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The City of Several Languages

The only rule my parents enforced during my trips abroad—besides their consistent refrain that I send more pictures—was that I not travel alone in Morocco. As close family friends who grew up around Tangiers warned, it was not safe for a #solowomantraveler. Since my travels, this rule has been modified, but until then I had to make travel plans with a friend.

During my semester in Cameroon I realized how easy it would be to change my flight home. After all, my flight from Yaoundé had a layover in Casablanca from which I could easily push the connecting flight back one week. Easier said than done. So my friend Grace, pictured above in sunshine yellow, and I coordinated our flight changes so that one of us would not be stuck in Morocco without the other. When her flight changes fell through, my parents were …miffed. Naturally, I called up (meaning I went to an internet café and sent a Facebook message to) my best traveling friend from Sweden, Sandra, who rearranged her schedule to travel with me for a week in the Maghreb. As Grace was finishing her research in rural Batoufam, Cameroon, she pulled some strings and got on my flights so she could be there too.

Comfortable speaking non-native languages, Sandra went up to any vendor, waiter, or passerby and used her impeccable English to engage with them. When it was preferable, Grace and I would use our French, which had become slightly accented thanks to our semester in Cameroon. In Chefchaouen, the Blue City, we were geographically close enough to Southern Spain and farther from the French influence. Walking into a café for breakfast, Sandra would ask “Is there food here?” after a blank look, Grace jumped in with « Est-ce qu’on peut manger le petit-déjeuner ici ? » which also garnered shaken heads. Then I would try to pull out my high school Spanish which had been most recently used in Barcelona over Halloween with friends from the Geneva program. “¿Hay comida aquí?” Sí, había comida en el café.

This scenario repeated itself whether we were in another restaurant, buying soap, or listening in to conversations on the street. Despite being one of the more well-known tourist cities in Morocco, it was also one of the smaller ones, so we all had the chance to stretch our linguistic muscles.


Sarah Reibman ’17 is a French Studies major earning the International Relations certificate. She studied abroad in Nairobi, Geneva, and Yaoundé. In her free time, she enjoys fencing, reading about wine, and planning future trips.

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Journey to Entoto Mariam Church

For the majority of Christian families who grow up in Ethiopia, including mine, going to church every Sundays is a tradition. Almost every Sunday, I would wake up early in the morning and head to the nearest church with my family. The fatigue of waking up in the morning would diminish as I entered the church and heard the pleasant sound of a sermon being projected from the church’s big megaphone.These Sundays have a special place in my heart, because they remind me of Ethiopia’s strong tradition and culture. They also signify the importance and centrality of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in our daily lives. These practices not only serve as spiritual fulfillment for the congregation but also serve as a means for the community to come together and talk about common issues that matter to us most. Everything inside is special, from the incredible and refreshing smell of the incense to the beautiful paintings and artful representations of religious figures on the walls. When I returned to Ethiopia last summer, I went back again to visit my hometown church because it is special and close to my heart.

I was also very excited to visit Entoto Mariam church on this trip. My mother and I woke up early one morning and took a taxi to go to the church. The church is located on top of a mountain in the Northern part of Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. As we traveled up the mountain, I noticed women carrying heavy bundles of firewood on their backs returning to their homes. The area is densely packed with trees and most of the local women here use the branches  from these trees to cook food. As we approached the church, there were many children running around and playing football excitedly nearby.

Entoto Mariam church is built on top of one of the highest mountains in Addis Ababa. An ancient church built in 1877 by Emperor Menelik II, it is also home to the first tomb of Empress Taitu, wife of Emperor Menelik II. The tomb is called “Shera Bet” and was built in 1918. There is a museum right next to the church where some of the personal belongings of Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu are displayed for visitors to see. Some of the historical items include traditional clothes, crowns of Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu, their royal bed, different jewels owned by the royal family, and a mirror presented as a gift from Queen Victoria to Empress Taitu of Ethiopia. Apart from the museum, this place is also home to the first eucalyptus tree in Ethiopia which was brought from Australia.  

Since the church is located at such a high elevation, it overlooks the entire city of Addis Ababa. Tourists from around the world, as well as local residents, come to visit this historical place not only because of its architectural design but also because it is a sacred place where prayers are answered. Entoto Mariam church is famous for its ‘holy water’ spring, where people with illnesses go to bathe in with the help of priests to get healed.

It is clear why this unique site has become one of the popular tourist destinations in Ethiopia. I am truly grateful to have had the privilege to visit this amazing place, and I wish many more people could come to appreciate its beauty.  


Ruth Tekleab Mekbib is a sophomore at Smith College intending to major in Sociology with a minor in Economics and a Five-College Certificate in International Relations. She is an international student from Ethiopia and is always excited to share her culture to the general Smith community and beyond.

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Green light, let’s go

I was walking with two huge suitcases around Shinjuku station. Google Maps told me that my hotel was only a four minute walk away, yet I had been wandering around for half an hour and was still incredibly lost. “I probably came out from the wrong exit,” I thought to myself, “but why on Earth did they have to design this place to be a maze?”

I decided to ask for help.

After asking five different people for directions, I eventually arrived at the hotel over an hour later. I was tired, but also intrigued by Tokyo’s transportation. How do people deal with these huge train stations and the endless crowd? Why do they move so fast yet all seem to know exactly where they are going?

I justified my confusion by the lack of public transportation in my home city. I spent my childhood years in Zhengzhou, a small developing city in the center of China. At that time, subways didn’t exist, and bus lines were limited and inconvenient. Transportation to me meant driving. My parents drove me everywhere in the city, and travelling time never exceeded one hour.

Thus, my first week in Tokyo I experienced culture shock. Firstly, trains are ubiquitous and extremely convenient. Walking on the streets, you can find at least one station every 15 minutes, and the trains can take you anywhere: not only to every corner in Tokyo, but also to nearby cities, such as Yokohama and Chiba. Secondly, my foreigner friend and I seemed to be the only ones excited to ride public transportation. Most Japanese passengers remained silent and avoided eye contact throughout the ride, looking down at a phone or a book. Meanwhile, we foreigners conversed loudly, busy expressing our excitement over this metropolis.

As I spent more time using Tokyo’s public transportation system, I started to understand it more and more. The reason behind people’s lifeless expressions is that the same group of people, mostly salarymen and schoolchildren, take the same exact route to work or school every day. According to my Japanese friend who lives in Yokohama, it takes him at least an hour and a half to go to school in Shinjuku-ku, making it a three hour round trip every day. He said that he finishes most of his academic reading on the train to kill time.

-“Then do you ever notice your surroundings? Different people who ride with you, the different activities they do to kill time, the scenery along your way…?”
-“えっ?あまり全然見ない…”(I don’t really look at all…)

These pictures were taken while I was lost around Shinjuku station. There was a girl in school uniform, looking down at her phone while waiting for the light to turn green. It represents the daily life of the population who use Tokyo’s public transportation, who spend a great amount of time traveling in and out of the metropolis.


Echo Zhang is currently a sophomore pursuing a major in Economics and a possible minor in Studio Art. Originally from Zhengzhou, China, she has been studying abroad in the U.S since age 14, and hopes to go to Japan next year to study urban economics and photography. In her free time, she enjoys videochatting her family, walking under the sun, and exploring the world through her lens. Her ultimate goal in life is to travel around the world with her family.

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Hygge of My Semester

A major part that made studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark such an enriching experience was my host family. Their home is in Dyssegård, a suburb of Copenhagen and a twenty-minute train ride from the city center. The opportunity to explore beyond the city center, and have a purposeful journey as well as excellent people-watching time was an important part of each day and helped me delve into the everyday lives of a diverse array of people in Copenhagen.

While the two listed as my “family” were Jette and Hans-Erik, the others whom I interacted with because of them — including their kids and grandkids, their neighbor Peter, Hans-Erik’s mother, and other family friends — all added to my love for their home and helped me feel welcome in their environment.

Each evening, we (Jette, Hans-Erik and I) would cook together dancing between their blue SVEG fridge and front entryway to make simple, yet interesting dishes. As someone who mainly baked cakes, cookies, and other sweets growing up, my major cooking challenge prior to going abroad was usually trying not to burn grilled cheese. Under their roof, the importance of experimentation and trying something new both in the manner of tasting as well as overall dish creation was expressed.

The various ways they created dishes out of simple ingredients was new to me, and their manner of cooking fascinating. However, it wasn’t the food that made me never want to miss an evening at home, it was the atmosphere. Beyond just cooking, this time was a chance to discuss current events, try to pronounce Danish words, and often get advice about life in a variety of contexts.

One evening, Hans-Erik came home ecstatic with the deal he got on steaks, showing off the twelve packages he bought to freeze and use. I found this particular event hilarious because it also helped me see my own love of a good deal in Hans-Erik’s excitement over the steak. This event of excitement was not rare, in fact, it was pretty regular for Hans-Erik to come home with groceries bought from a supermarket deal, overjoyed at their total cost. Over the semester, I slowly began to understand the European culture of going to the grocery store multiple times a week, in contrast to the usual, once a week, giant grocery trip typically practiced in the United States.

Beyond the physical aspect of living in their home for four months, being taught Danish pronunciations and to distinguish different red wines, my entire experience was shaped by the love and friendliness of their everyday lives. This experience reaffirmed the importance of not only traveling to see the physical aspects of different cities but having real connections with those from such places, if possible. Those evening moments of bonding, from the quiet ones to the ones filled with thunderous laughter, are what I miss the most about my time in Denmark.


Bailey is a Minnesota native and a coffee addict. You can find her wearing spottie dotties (polka dots, as some call them) or talking numerous jumping pictures in her pink Doc Martens. She loves to explore either through traveling in the physical world or through moving picture films. As a senior at Smith, she is house president of Gardiner House and a gold key tour guide.

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Word on the Street

In the summer of 2016, through my Book Studies Concentration at Smith College, I had the amazing opportunity to intern in the rare book room of the American Academy in Rome. One weekend morning, on vague instructions from the gentleman that ran the guesthouse I lived in for the month, I walked over to the Porta Portese Flea Market. It was morning, but the light was already brilliant and hot. I had been told to find three staircases, which were shortcuts to get down to the port. The first was a slightly dilapidated wide case at the edge of Monteverde, while the second seemed to take me through a small jungle.  I began to seriously wonder if I would spend another day lost among the labyrinth of Roman streets. But when I got to the third set of stairs, I could see the main road beyond speckled with the tents of the market. The staircase was expansive and enormous in the typical Roman way where everything— from buildings to statues—seems bizarrely huge. As enormous as it was, there was no one else scaling the steps.

I had come to Rome worried that my shy and introverted ways would make me a lonely sight far away from my children and home. And in Rome I was truly alone for the first time in perhaps over twenty years. While I made many fine acquaintances at work, I spent my free time utterly alone. Before I arrived, I had worried that I would feel awkward and terrifically lonely. In some ways I did. After all, I am me. But something unexpected happened. Once there, perhaps as a result of my own maturity or coming into my own as it were, during my time at Smith, I allowed myself to enjoy, rather than lament, being by myself. I gained a perspective upon myself that allowed me to finally accept my reserved nature.

I made my way down the enormous staircase. Because I had no one to meet, no agenda, and no one else to please, I had the novel experience of following my own fancy: following my eye, simply stopping, looking, photographing, or being absorbed by whatever impulse led me. At the bottom of the staircase I turned around to take in my grand accomplishment—I had found my way down the hundreds of steps! That was when I saw the mural painted on the risers of the steps. It was marvelously unexpected, though art is everywhere in Rome. It is through art that the voices of the past and present communicate most profoundly with us. I knew that at any other time in my life I would have felt compelled to hurry forward. I would have felt obliged to get there. But in Rome, the streets were always talking to me. I was richly rewarded when, in my solitude, I finally learned to trust myself enough to stop and listen.


Jessica Ryan J17′ is an Ada Comstock Scholar. She will be graduating Smith College in January and going on to pursue her master’s in library sciences at Simmons College.

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Finding Seljavallalaug

As a friend and I began our Icelandic vacation, we drove towards Reykjavik early in the morning in July, and found a parking spot near a bakery. Our first morning was a sleepy morning, and we sat in a cozy window seat and watched the passers-by. This was our first day in a new country, and our introduction to Icelandic chai tea, something we still crave today.

Iceland was also the inaugural stamp in my new passport. I hadn’t left the US since I was a young girl, when my family and I spent years living on a Caribbean island. After that, I bookmarked travel websites, and planned imaginary trips, explored online guidebooks, all from a hospital bed in Boston, where I awaited new lungs. Three years after a double-lung transplant, and two years into my journey as a Smith student, I found myself aboard the flight, unable to sleep, peering out of the window at Greenland, its ice sheets illuminated by the midnight sun. I was a bit nervous, and tired, and acutely aware that I had finally made it somewhere far different than any place I’d traveled to before.

Renu Linberg, Ada Comstock Scholar 18J, Stokksnes, Iceland

During our ten-day trip, we drove along the southern coast as far as Stokksnes, a beach set next to the mountain Vestrahorn with dozens of mounds of black sand with tufts of sea grass growing atop them, before we left the southern coast and began our trek to the north, where we visited Akureyri, Husavik, and a small fishing town on the far northern coast, Siglufjordur, accessible via a tunneled road leading through a mountain. In each town, we chatted with locals and tourists, stopped for sheep who would occasionally dart into the road, and saw views and vistas unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

However, before we traveled north, we compiled a comically long list of the places we had to see along the southern coast, on our way to Stokksnes. Surely it was all doable, we thought, as the midnight sun meant our long drive back to Reykjavik would be mostly illuminated. “Who needs to sleep on vacation?” we repeatedly asked each other, more emphatically after we left the eastern coast late at night, and realized how very far we had left to drive. That night, we drove through the midnight sunset, and were still driving when the sun rose four hours later.

Included on our list was Vatnajokull, a large ice sheet, along with Jokulsarlon, a glacier lagoon, and a messily scrawled note that said “icebergs!” We found them on the beach across the road from the lagoon, where large chunks of ice had broken off and landed on the shore. We had also written Seljavallalaug, a hot springs pool that had been reopened after a volcanic eruption temporarily closed the original pool. We were intrigued.

The turnoff, located directly off the main Ring Road, yet unlabeled and nondescript, led us to a deeply grooved, gravel road where we parked and continued on foot. Unsure if we were even in the correct location, we began to walk alongside a small river back into a valley, surrounded by lush, green hills, rocky and pointed on top, with small trickling waterfalls winding down them towards us. We hiked up a short hill, realized we should be hiking down, and backtracked, continued over a rickety wooden footbridge, partially broken in the middle, but nonetheless sufficient, over black sand, and into the river at points, our shoes submerged in the cold mountain runoff. Then, around a small bend, nestled in the valley, we came across a handful of people floating and chatting and enjoying the warm water on the cool, cloudy day. There were locals and tourists swimming together, smiling at us as we approached and reached our hands in to test the water.


Renu Linberg is an Ada Comstock Scholar majoring in English. A Massachusetts native, she’s lived around the country and on an island. She enjoys tea, exploring, cozy bookshops, and writing short stories. She hopes to teach one day, somewhere warm, preferably another island.

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O, Wonder!: Thoughts on Photography

Some photos make me think beyond the subject: how did the photographer get there, how did they climb so high, how could they elicit such sincerity? I think of photos of wartime, photos on the front pages; how was someone just standing there with a camera? How could someone take a picture of their subject who was crying over their dead son or holding their hanging limbs? I wonder how it would feel to be photographed if I was in pain. I wonder if there are people who protect photographers, who protect the image.

Yet however much it seems to be a passive gesture, it isn’t. Taking a picture is a vulnerable position to put yourself in. Your focus is completely taken away, your eyes are behind a lens, your arms are lifted. You are surrendering to the angle, to the light, to the subject, to whatever happens to you while you take this picture. I think of that while I look at things here, in Buenos Aires. I don’t take as many photos as I want to because I am not in a place that I know as wholeheartedly as Oakland or Northampton. People that I don’t know swarm around me, the landscapes are lit for only a moment. Everything that I seem to know disappears as soon as I understand it.

Sometimes I wish the world were on pause. I could walk for hours, taking pictures without asking anyone to move. Nobody would stare at me, nobody would laugh at me, nobody would hurt me. Truthfully, I wish taking pictures were passive. Perhaps in my amateur photography you can tell that I want that. Or maybe that’s just me.

I think of my mom when I think of active and happy photography. She is never afraid to ask someone to smile, whether they are her daughters or a stranger. Once, we were in the car in San Francisco at a stoplight, and a horse-drawn carriage stopped next to us. Inside, there was a newlywed couple eating sandwiches. My mom screamed, opened the door to the van, leaned out while holding onto the handle of the door and asked if she could take a picture. In the photograph, they are smiling through their full mouths. We all laughed then, but my sisters and I hate it when she gets into her “photographer phase”. She just asks everyone if she can take their picture. I remember she stood at the beginning of the line for the procession of my sister’s graduation and took a portrait of everyone in her eighth grade class. My sister was furious.

I think now about the times when I was embarrassed that she was so shameless, willing to stick a lens in anyone’s face. But, when I look back now, there are portraits. A woman she had never met once called her and asked to buy one of her photos, because it was the last image of her husband when he was alive.

The world is full. Full of walking portraits of people who might not be here tomorrow, landscapes draped in light, landscapes draped in shadows. There are things that are just captured by happenstance: “Oh, the light, stay there.” Then, there are things that must be captured: war, pain, injustice, my sister’s graduation, Buenos Aires.

The world is full, and I think that is what makes photography so brave.



RUIZ. Olivia.portraitOlivia Ruiz is a double major in Sociology and Spanish. Her dream is to work at an archive abroad where she will be able to use her Spanish and Portuguese. She would like to take part in preserving history and making it accessible to whichever community she is apart of. 

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The Small Parts

I had been in Greece for five weeks, Athens for three. While arriving, I had seen the luminous and looming Lykavittos Hill towering in the distance. I knew there was a path to the top and I imagined a wonderful view, but I had yet to venture towards it. On this day, though, I had the day off from my internship at the University of Athens Museum of Mineralogy and Petrology and I felt particularly up for the challenge. With my camera in hand and map in my pocket, I started in the direction of the hill. I worked my way through the bustling streets, avoiding the masses of bussed-in tourists, and found my way to the base. As I started the often-steep climb to the top, I realized I had escaped the crowds and saw only a lone gardener maintaining the park on the hill. What I saw when I got to the top made my jaw drop. I could see all of Athens, the Acropolis, the Panathenaic Stadium, my apartment. I could even see all the way to Piraeus –Athens’ harbor – with all its docks and ships. It was incredible. But I was completely alone, looking down at this busy, bustling grand city.


For me, the point of traveling is to try and embrace other cultures. I endeavor to begin with a broad bird’s eye view, if you will, of the country I am visiting and then go deeper seeking out intimate and authentic experiences and relationships. I wanted to go out to restaurants that tourists did not go to. I wanted to make friends – and I did. The week I climbed Lykavittos Hill was also the week I found Redpoint, a small climbing center about a half hour out of the city via the metro. It was a scary moment stepping out of the metro station, knowing no one and not speaking the language. But it turned into the best experience of my time in Athens. An avid rock climber, I went and climbed at least twice a week for the remainder of my stay. I met local climbers and became good friends with the man who worked at the gym, Kirykos.

One afternoon my new Greek friend and I decided to meet for coffee. I left my apartment, camera in hand and map in my pocket, and ventured once again  out into the crowd of people. I headed in the direction of our meeting place through the bustling streets. After coffee, as we were walking off the beaten path in his favorite neighborhood, we stumbled across a gated off building. I hopped over to the fence. It looked as if the roof of the building was gone, there was graffiti all over the walls and litter strewn on the floor. I asked Kirykos if he knew what this place used to be. He told me it was a nightclub and explained that this neighborhood used to be something special, filled with life. Now it was empty narrow streets with broken windows, ramshackled buildings and closed businesses. How different this grand city looked from deep within! I then realized just how far I had come – from sitting alone on that big hilltop to having someone with whom to explore the small parts of the city.

Although the up-close did not look as grand as the view from the hill, it was filled with new kinds of life, conversations and laughter and was all the grander because of it.

Heather Upin, ’16, studies geology at Smith College. During summer 2014 she traveled to Greece where she participated in Smith’s Global Engagement Seminar studying the archaeology of Greece in its geologic context. This experience sparked an interested in travel and deepened her passion for rocks. After completing her education at Smith College, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in geochemistry.


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A Moment of Peace

Our plane was delayed two and a half hours in Shanghai, due to smog so thick we couldn’t see the airport from the plane window. We had originally planned to climb the mountain, but because of the delay, and then the fact that we missed our train from Xi’an to the mountain base and had to take a later one, we arrived at Huashan only an hour before dark. Not wanting to climb one of the most dangerous mountains in China in the dark in the winter, we opted for the safer and faster cable-car route.

By the time we got to the top, it was completely dark. There was snow and ice blanketing the hills around us, but the paths were clear. Our plan was to stay in one of the hotels (I use the word “hotels” rather loosely — they were a collection of stone-floored rooms with no beds), but the first one we came upon was 300 yuan a night (roughly 50USD), and nearly full, so we decided to check out our other options before we settled. Hiking around 45 minutes to another peak, we reached a second hotel; this one was, to our dismay, completely full. As the innkeeper turned us away and we resigned ourselves to hiking back to the other hotel, a man wearing a set of long robes emerged from darkness and caught our attention. With the help of my (rather broken) Chinese, I figured out he was trying to tell us to come with him, and that he had a place for us to stay. Sophie, Justina, and I shared a kind of “what the hell, why not” look, and followed him up a flight of stone stairs that curled around the side of a cliff. When we got to the top, we realized he was leading us to a small temple-like building. We entered, and he ushered us behind the shrine, where there was a bunkbed and a few blankets. He only charged us 80 yuan each (a solid deal), and we were really close to where we wanted to be the next morning to watch the sunrise: the east peak.

The next morning we got up before dawn to find the front room of the temple, and the top bunk of our bed, had filled with people overnight. Needing to pee, I remembered a couple of outhouses I had seen the night before, and slipped out before Justina and Sophie, stepping around the people on the floor. The outhouses were built on the side of the mountain, had no doors, and instead of being built over a hole dug in the ground, hung over the side of the cliff. The snow underneath the hole leading down the slope was not clean. A line was forming in front of them and I, still half asleep, did not trust myself to not fall off the side of the mountain, and decided to hold it.

We hiked to the east peak to find a crowd of people already gathered at the prime sunrise-watching spot. There was a fence along the edge of a steep cliff, covered in golden locks and bright red strips of cloth, which, against the rising light in the sky, looked absolutely beautiful. In the summer, many people choose to make the hike up Huashan overnight to reach the peak by sunrise, or they hike up and sleep on the cliff itself, tying themselves to the poles of the fence so they don’t fall.

There was a lot of fog hanging around the mountains that morning (or smog — in China, it’s often hard to tell which, and Xi’an was at the top of the pollution charts that week, so smog from the city could have blown over to the mountain quite easily), so the light from the sun filtered in slowly, changing the sky to a soft, grey-blue color; it made the mountains in the background look hazy and ethereal.

When I look back at my travels abroad, I tend to remember the “from afar”. I forget the details. It’s when I look at my “up close” pictures, of cute bugs or interesting rocks or cool fences on top of mountains, that I start to remember the little parts of the story. How, when we were waiting for the sun to rise, I sat right on the edge of the cliff, holding onto the chain of the fence, cuddled close to my friends for warmth. I remember how, out of a hectic trip where we missed or almost missed every train and plane we had booked ahead of time, we found a moment of peace on top of this mountain.


MORSE.J. portraitJaqueline Morse has always had an interest in travel and in discovering new places. For her junior year abroad she studied in Shanghai, China and Melbourne, Australia, spending the two intervening months WWOOFing in New Zealand. She hopes to someday find a career where she can travel to new places often. 

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A Blurred Reality

They say living is easy with eyes closed, but, that day in the township of Soweto, South Africa, I learned to open my own.

In the summer of 2010, after my sophomore year abroad at the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut, I was chosen to participate in a leadership and service trip for two months in South Africa and Botswana. From the beginning, my peers and I knew that this would not be an easy experience.
On our first day in Soweto, we pulled up a dirt road leading to a compound made of several dozen wooden huts with sheets of tin thrown on top of them. It wasn’t the first time I had seen poverty, and I certainly knew it wouldn’t be the last. I had seen it in the bulky blankets under Rome’s bridges, in plastic cups rattling to the beat of desperation and solitude, and in the wearers of mismatched shoes staggering on the sidewalks of cities at night. However, I had not seen the contrast between poverty and joyful giggling children.
They ran up to us, tapping furiously on the windows of our bus, and motioned for us to get off. They reached in for whoever’s hand they could touch as we set foot on the muddy soil, and skipped back to the village with their newfound friend. Just as I began to take my camera out, I felt a warm, firm grasp encompass my hand. I looked down. A little boy was smiling at me. He began tugging on my shirt, looking up at me with the widest grin, refusing to let go.

In broken English, he told me he wanted to be my friend. I smiled and squeezed his hand, feeling the tears starting to well up. We walked in silence as he led me in and out of houses made of dirt floors and tin roofs that he and his neighbors called home, where women in the surrounding darkness sat in a circle peeling tomatoes. The South African sunset glimmered onto their faces as the little boy pulled me along from dirt floor to dirt floor, pointing at the spot on the ground in the shack where he spent his nights. He motioned for me to sit, saying his home was now my home, too.

My heart felt heavy in a way I had never known before. I began retreating into my quiet contemplation, trying to take it all in, both the inexplicable beauty of the moment and poverty I was seeing.Suddenly, I felt a pair of arms flung around my waist. The little boy broke the silence, asking me to take a picture of him and of his friends in the hut next door. I nodded with a quick smile, positioned my hands on the body of the camera, aimed, and pressed the shutter just as the group of smiling boys looked my way.

Being a photographer means more than just focusing and shooting; it is often living a life through a lens without completely being a part of it; it is turning and twisting and tilting until something that has been blurred for so long slowly begins to focus. After only a few minutes of what seemed so blurry to me, I began to perceive the lives these children were living. I started to see the reality of their world from up close, the unspoken pain behind their smiles.

It was then that I began to understand the Nguni Bantu philosophy of ubuntu, a word that signifies the essence of humanity, kindness and interconnectedness, and translates to “I am who I am because of who we all are” or “I am because you are”.The boys giggled as the camera clicked, and thanked me with a hug. I embraced them, and said, “no, thank you”. I then lowered my head gently and with a shaking smile whispered, “ubuntu”.


PULLELLA.Carmen.portraitCarmen Pullella ’16 is an international student born and raised in Rome, Italy. She is an avid writer, a photography enthusiast, and frequent world traveler who drinks too many café mochas for her own good and who can often be found hiding in used bookstores or record shops downtown. She intends to pursue her Psychology degree in child and adolescent psychopathology after graduating from Smith, and continue her involvement in the world of professional photography, slam poetry, and academia.

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An Urban Adventure


Walking on the streets of Paris with a camera changed everything. I was now more attentive to events that unfolded like a play at the theatre: a man crouching in the metro corner with an empty bottle, a woman with sad eyes leaning against the window, or a husband carrying flowers on his lap, either for his wife or mistress. My friend told me that she once stumbled upon a party inside the train of the metro with guests dressed in suits and evening gowns, clutching several bottles of champagne. She even has the photos to prove it. Here in Paris, you are prepared to run into anything.

The city of Paris was my introduction to street photography but during the first week of my studio course, I wondered why my pictures looked still, as if nothing was ever happening: a garbage can, the Chinese restaurant sign, a homeless man sleeping silently. My teacher urged me to turn to photo books and to visit exhibitions— “those are your greatest teachers”, he said. The truth of his words could be found in the influential works of Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Vivian Maier. It all made sense now: I am the artist, and I can create as much of a composition as someone with an easel and brush, a compelling revelation.

The execution, however, was a whole other story. The skepticism of Parisians was already at a high level, even without the camera. Once I revealed it and peered through the viewfinder, people would scurry away, or hiss at me loudly. “Who does she think she is, taking a picture of me?” they must all have thought. The confrontations drew fear and guilt into my heart, and consequently, I resorted to a timid and all-too-nice way of photographing: from afar. But what was the sacrifice? My work lacked that edge present in the photographs I admired, were the subjects sometimes stared at the camera unblinkingly. My photos couldn’t tell you anything.

When I decided it was time my pictures stopped suffering due to lack of courage, I invented an antidote. I made myself approach the subject without a second thought, despite my fear. I went to them, asked permission, and took the damn picture. The change brought riveting results—I entered into pages of people’s stories. I was a witness to their daily life, whether they were trapped in a state of mind or exuding an uncontrollable energy. They could trust me to document these moments. As a consequence to all this, I gained an enhanced sense of awareness for the city and its people.

Now I stroll on the streets with my camera around my neck, hidden from no one. It could be what you call in French flâner, strolling in a city with no intended destination but for the pleasure of a promenade. With this identity and sense of confidence, I am searching for Paris’s secret life. I want to convey that we’re all living theatre without fully acknowledging it. What a joy when a photographer can be there to document it!

This was how I encountered my little clown here, on the night of Halloween while riding my bike. She was sitting with her costumed friends at an American diner near Odéon, about to order a proper milkshake. Perhaps this picture has too many American themes to be French, but I was surprised to have spotted her. She represents for me all the unexpected discoveries in cities, unconfined by expectations.

HO.Yvonne.portraitYvonne is spending her junior year abroad in Paris, furthering her studies in art history and French. She hopes to continue taking pictures when she returns to Northampton for her senior year, after starting her photographic experience here in Paris.

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Traveling without a Map

What can I find without a map? This was the question I was forced to ask myself this fall when I arrived in London to conduct research for my dissertation in art history and realized I had forgotten to pack a map.

The great irony is that one of the focuses of my research while in London was eighteenth century maps of the British empire. I spent days at the Greenwich Maritime Museum and the British Museum, as well as collections and archives outside London, poring over maps picturing the Atlantic world—a ring of geographic sites ranging from England to the West coast of Africa, the Caribbean, and the colonies of North America surrounding the vast expanse of the ocean. This research brought me up close to the textures and images of the eighteenth-century Atlantic. With my iPad I shot detailed pictures of engraved lines, navigational marks, swirling scripts, and decorative cartouches. Some maps were hand-colored in delicate washes of green and red and blue. Others bore scribbled notes by printmakers in brown gall ink prompting their engravers to make changes.

As an art historian, the question I want to ask of these objects is not how they got people places, but how they helped people in local settings imagine the wider world of which they were a part. In my dissertation I explore how British and American peoples of the eighteenth century imagined and represented the ocean between them in art, literature, and material culture. In the period I study, navigation at sea was an uncertain and often dangerous business. Scientists and geographers were still struggling to figure out how to reliably calculate longitude on a ship. Maps were often outdated or inaccurate. The explorer James Cook complained that he and his crew could “hardly tell when we are possessed of a good sea chart until we our selves have proved it.” In other words, seafarers often didn’t know where exactly they were going, or where they even were until they were there.

The sense of being at sea that I found in the archive reflected how I felt about the state of my own research. As a graduate student, I had reached the edge of the map guiding me through completing coursework, passing my exams, and achieving doctoral candidacy. Now, at the beginning stages of my dissertation, I was a bit like a sailor uncertain of my direction, struggling to navigate with a compass and the sky.

Leaving the museum or library after hours of straining my eyes over yesterday’s maps, I found myself on the busy streets of the city, this time literally without a map of my own. While my maplessness began as an accident of ill-preparedness, it soon became a purposeful means of discovering my place in the city.
Mapless, I looked up, not down. With my feet leading, I was able to focus on what was around me. Without a map, I tramped along the banks of the Thames, encountering the sixteenth-century London of Shakespeare’s Globe and Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind. Without a map, I stumbled over the cobblestones of Spitalfields, finding the eighteenth-century homes and workshops of Hugoenot silk weavers. Without a map, I puffed to the top of the Naval Observatory, stood on the Prime Meridian, and gasped at the bright green parakeets that filled the air.

At least once on every walk I would capture an image with my iPhone. Like the little boats and recordings of a ship’s trajectory that showed up on the old maps I was studying, this gesture marked my place in space and time. Looking back through all the pictures I took while in London now, I see where I was, and where I was going. Traveling without a map helped me approach my research with greater curiosity and creativity. The visual record of my wanderings in the city and the archive is a sort of map that reminds me where I have been, even as I continue to chart my course toward new waters.


CASEY.portraitEmily Casey is a doctoral candidate in art history at the University of Delaware. In her research she seeks to bring global perspectives to the art, history, and material culture of the Americas. While a Smith student, Emily worked at the Smith College Museum of Art and studied abroad in Paris.

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