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Two AMS students experience Smith

Here is another in our series of profiles of American Studies Diploma program (AMS) students.  It covers the experience of two students: Rajbir Purewal and Marijn Freud.


Rajbir Purewal, AMS

Rajbir Purewal is a twenty-two year old economic student from Geneva, Switzerland who has roots in India. Rajbir is unlike most of the other AMS students as he is studying at Smith for only one semester, and despite growing up in Geneva he counts English as one of his mother tongues, along with French and Hindi.


Marijn Freud, AMS

Marijn Freud is a twenty-five year old from Amsterdam, Holland and already has a Master’s in American Studies, with her main interest being American politics. She has been to America twice before, to Chicago and St Louis (“interesting for American studies students, not for tourists”) for ten days each. She had originally planned to travel in America for three months, but instead took this opportunity to live here for a whole year.

Adapting to new surroundings has been difficult for both Rajbir and Marijn. Rajbir has been to America many times before because he has family in Stamford, Connecticut, and says he “identifies with the culture” of America. However, familiarity with the culture did not make Rajbir’s transition to Smith easy. He says his advisor in Geneva warned him that Smith was a women’s college before coming here, but made it seem as if there were a modest number of male graduate students, which turned out to be “kind of wrong.” Rajbir comes from a very close-knit family and has never lived on his own before, so being away from his family was also a considerable adjustment, especially being away from his little sister, whom he considers “the most important person” in his life. His first weeks at Smith were trying, but now he is happy here and he is especially excited to be using the Five Colleges to take classes at the Isenberg School of Management at UMASS.

The transition wasn’t quite as rough for Marijn. There were, however, some cultural differences that were very strange to her at first. She noticed that Americans had a sense of “openness” that wasn’t present in Holland. For example, Marjin says that in America it is relatively easy to begin a conversation with a stranger, but finds that it is also much harder to form a deeper connection with someone. Marijn sometimes feels odd calling people “you” because of a linguistic difference between Dutch and English. In Dutch there is a formal “you” and an informal “you,” and so sometimes she feels disrespectful calling people “you,” however she then realizes she is not being disrespectful at all.

Shifts in culture and environment weren’t the only adjustments Rajbir and Marijn had to make; both noticed that classes at Smith are conducted differently than in their home countries. Rajbir is used to 45 minute classes, so having a class that is 2 hours and 30 minutes long was at first odd for him. He says having a class where students just talk is a new experience, and he appreciates that the professors here are more willing to help their students, whereas in Geneva the professor was unlikely to know his or her students’ names.

On the other hand, Marijn says she was surprised that classes were “only one hour and twenty minutes.” In Holland she usually had classes once a week for three hours. She likes Smith’s classes better, though, because she says by the third hour of a class she became pretty drowsy. For Marijn, some things have remained the same – while she expected there to be some differences in class discussions, in reality they proved to be quite similar to those at home. She says that it seems like there is more work here, but in Holland the professors consider that students are living alone and working, which is “a whole other life next to” their studies. Both Rajbir and Marijn note that there is a lot of reading at Smith.

While their time in the AMS program is another step towards their futures, neither Rajbir nor Marijn have a clear idea of what they want to do after this year is over. Rajbir knows for certain he could never work in an office, because he likes people and wants to have an impact on the people around him. For a class in Geneva, Rajbir drafted a plan for a business that would raise money to help reduced water scarcity in India, which was met with a lot of interest by the people to whom he presented the idea. Whether or not he pursues this particular enterprise, he would like to do something similar, and if not, he thinks he will do something in marketing. Marijn says she’s using this year in America as an “extended thinking-about-what-I-want-to-be period” and she feels like she wants “to be 100 things but at the same time none of them.” She thinks right now that her ideal job would be something that combines journalism and politics. Neither have decided whether they want to come back to live in the United States. Rajbir says he may stay if he finds a job that he likes, however “the quality of life in Switzerland is undeniable” and that would make the decision to stay here difficult. Marijn says she will always go back to Holland because of her friends and family, however she thinks she will probably have to stay in America to have a job that lines up with her studies and her interests.

After experiencing life abroad for two months now, both have the same advice for students traveling abroad for the first time: “Don’t Skype too much!” Marijn says that while Skype is necessary while studying abroad, she has noticed that people who Skype too much “aren’t focused on being in the actual place and don’t make a lot of connections.” Rajbir articulated almost the same thoughts, saying that socialization is essential and that it isn’t good to “rely on talking to people who are not there.” He added that students should enjoy their experience abroad as much as they can and be open to challenges. Some of the opportunities to study abroad will be incredibly unique, and students should try not to be distracted too much by their friends and family at home. In Marijn’s words, instead of just physically being in that space, everyone should try to actually “be there.”

This interview was conducted by Global STRIDE student Emily Paruolo ’17.

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