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“The more I found a home [at Columbia], the more desire I felt to push myself further and further out of my comfort zone.” — Chloé Durkin CC’15
During her junior year, Chloé Durkin CC’15 embarked on a year of international exploration. She interned at two companies through the Center for Career Education's CEO Singapore and CEO Hong Kong programs; spent a semester studying abroad at University College London; and traveled to Siliguri in West Bengal, India through a program she helped to organize with the support of the Alternative Break Program. Along the way, she also visited Thailand, Indonesia, China, Russia, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, France and the Philippines. As she prepares to graduate, she reflects below on what it has meant to find homes away from home.
Social media is a strange creature. There’s an app that, on any given day of the year, can pull up everything you’ve ever posted on that day throughout your existence and present it back to you as a pleasant or terrifying reminder of where you’ve been and how far youve come. It is a phenomenon similar to that of reading and re-reading Catcher in the Rye; the character that at sixteen resonated so deeply with you becomes, at twenty-two, something more like evidence of the arrogance of your youth.
If ever you needed an example of such arrogance, you might look at my own social media presence on June 6, 2013. This was the day that I first landed in Singapore, a Columbia College sophomore who didn’t know the first thing about Southeast Asia and who’d never been that far away from home in her entire life. I had no local currency, no means of communication, not even a universal adapter. All I had was the address of the apartment building I would be living in and two months worth of luggage.
This is a mother’s nightmare, I know. I look back on it and shake my head disapprovingly at myself, muttering, “What are we going to do with her? Kids these days, honestly.” But from my perspective at the time, the thoughts were genuinely that simple, that clear: I want to see the world. I must see the world. I’d been given the opportunity and I’d leapt at it. Unfortunately, I’d just forgotten to Google what to do when I got there.
Looking back now, I have a great appreciation for that single-minded, spontaneous version of myself. It was the beginning of a beautiful adventure. In my time as an undergraduate student, I have been to 19 different countries and flown thousands of miles in what ultimately came to be a full three hundred and sixty-degree circling of the globe. I have interned in Singapore and Hong Kong, worked with local nonprofits in India and studied English literature in London. I have made new friends and visited old ones across three continents. I didn’t “find myself” abroad, but it grounded, humbled and electrified me in ways I never could have fathomed.
Before I arrived at Columbia, I had never been to Vermont, let alone Copenhagen or Shenzhen. Who knew that my studious high school self had it in her to jump on a plane to Delhi without a second thought? But that is what has been so unexpectedly wonderful about my time in college — it has kept and protected my boldness, stood by and supported me in my willingness to plunge headfirst into things I know nothing about.
None of what I’ve seen, where I’ve been or what I’ve experienced would have been possible without Columbia. I mean this on a multitude of levels; I could never have dreamed of affording any of these experiences and it was only by virtue of Columbia’s generous alumni support and programs that I have been abroad at all. But beyond that, and perhaps even more importantly, it is the diversity, drive and fearlessness of the Columbia community that enabled me to start thinking, “Yeah, I could move to the other side of the world right now,” and not bat an eyelash.
On the tours I give for Columbia Undergraduate Admissions, I frequently recite the fact that Columbia is the most diverse of the Ivy League schools. When I applied, I had no idea the weight this would one day have on my education. The world starts to feel smaller, more familiar, even as you are standing on campus. The more I found a home here, the more desire I felt to push myself further and further out of my comfort zone, hoping that one day when I turned around and looked back, that zone would have expanded to include the thousands of miles I’ve traversed as a College student.
Coming to the end of my time here, it is hard to remember exactly how I felt standing on the precipice. Years of anticipated joys and sorrows stretched out before me, with no idea of where I wanted to go or who I wanted to be. Now I look back through all the photo streams, blog posts and silly statuses of the last four years as markers of the journey — watching the sun set over the Himalayas, drinking copious amounts of bubble tea, dancing through Oxford Street, celebrating Christmas in Norway, desperately trying and failing to speak Cantonese to the bus drivers in Hong Kong. And what strikes me most is the fact that all of these places now feel like home.
I think that this has been the single most educational aspect of my abroad experience and, for that matter, of college: learning how to construct a happy life, to make a home out of raw materials. Because that is what you are handed each time you pick up and move somewhere new — building blocks for a new life that you are responsible for assembling.
And I did it. I sought out a home in all the new places I went to. I felt achingly lonely at times, and frustrated beyond measure at others. I spent countless hours searching for grocery stores and way longer building new friendships. There isn’t really a clear way to go about it each time, but I walk through life now with great confidence in the fact that, no matter where I go or what I do, I will be alright. And whether it takes two days or two years, home can be wherever I want to make it.
Chloé Durkin CC’15 is an English major in Columbia College and a student web editor for the Columbia College website. She is the president of Latenite Theatre and choreographer of the 121st Annual Varsity Show.