Preparing to Expand My Bubble Abroad

We all live in little bubbles – created by our habits, the people we surround ourselves with, our careers, and all the other bits and pieces that make up this tiny ecosystem we build for ourselves. As we go through our lives, these bubbles can expand and shrink. When we meet new people or experience something new, they expand. When we restrict ourselves to the same habits or friend groups, they shrink. This semester abroad, I really wish to expand my own bubble which has been shrinking ever since the start of the pandemic. I am interested in pushing the boundaries of our bubbles and understanding that there is a far greater world that lies outside of the miniature worlds we surround ourselves with. Whether that’s through meeting new people or learning about another culture and history, I can’t wait to cultivate a bubble that’s been lying fallow for almost two years. 

What the bubbles visually look like!

My term at Oxford doesn’t begin until October 4th, so I’ve spent the last moments of August and the month of September working on my thesis, beginning my first online Oxford tutorial, and spending time with friends and family. Because the Michaelmas term is so short (only 1 major tutorial and 1 minor tutorial), the program had to add an additional tutorial during the month of September to make sure I satisfied the Amherst academic credit requirements. Because I am not physically at Oxford yet, the tutorial is virtual. My first tutorial is called Organizational Behavior and I meet with my tutor every Monday for around an hour. The rest of the week is spent digesting long lists of readings and writing an essay that I submit prior to my weekly tutorial. So far, the experience has been positive. Amherst courses usually focus on theoretical and abstract academia, so it was nice to engage in a course that was more applicable and “real-life” focused. I do still read a lot about management and organizational theory, but there are a lot more real-life cases and my tutor often brings in personal work or graduate school insights. Other than that, it is a very personalized learning experience since my tutorials are 1:1. However, it does feel more isolating in that I rarely get any social engagement with other students. The tutorial structure is also isolating in that most of the time, I’m self-studying (reading and writing on my own), so there isn’t a lot of collaborative or group learning. Hopefully I get to experience a more socialized academic experience when I’m physically at Oxford – we all know the effects of zoom fatigue…   

Right now, I have less than two weeks before flying out to England, and I’m additionally feeling a strange mixture of fear, excitement, and forgetfulness. Fear of uprooting warm familiarity and trading it for the cold shocks of change. Excited for a new place, new experiences, and the long-awaited expansion of my bubble. And constantly forgetting the fact that in less than two weeks, I’ll be breathing in British air and settling into a new, temporary home. Part of me wants to create long lists of places to visit and extensive daily plans (I’m an extreme planner). And the other wants to just enjoy the moments I have with family and friends and remember that I’m studying abroad only when I touch down in Heathrow. It’s this strange period of waiting where you know that something big is coming, but there’s nothing you can do but wait. This will be the second time I’ve studied and lived abroad. My first time was my freshman year summer where I lived in Beijing for 2 months for a Mandarin language immersion program. I’ll never forget the experiences and memories that summer – from biking in the streets at night to reciting a poem I wrote in front of the student body, my bubble not only expanded but reached out to others. In these past few weeks, I’ve been reminiscing about that experience and implicitly comparing it to what I expect studying abroad in England would look like. Would I meet similar, amazing friends? Go out of my comfort zone and do something spontaneous? Create a community outside of familiar boundaries? Although I know thinking and worrying about these things do me no good, I can’t help but wonder just how fragile my bubble has become over the past 2 years and how it will react to new beginnings. Just as I am excited to expand my worldviews and find joy in studying abroad, I am incredibly anxious about what is to come. 

I foresee the next weeks to be a whirlwind of work, packing, and daydreaming about England. Whatever the journey brings, I know I’ll be able to catch a glimpse of how people in another country live, how to enjoy life in a different way, and how to grow in an unfamiliar space. I hope my posts will be introspective, reflective, and intimate. A little like diary entries, a little like snapshots of memories. And throughout it all – examining how my bubble has changed and vice versa how I have expanded someone else’s bubble. 

As I’m preparing to expand my bubble abroad, I’ve adopted a caterpillar named Rory! I’ve always been terrified of bugs, but strangely I’ve become attached to Rory and feed him his favorite flowers everyday.

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