Cornelia Smith (CC '20)

Cornelia Smith is a recent graduate of Columbia College, where she majored in Art History. She studied abroad in Paris, France in the Fall Semester of 2019 at Reid Hall.

August 31, 2021

Why did you choose France?

I wanted to both work on my French and contextualize that within my art history studies. I’ve been studying French for so long and I study Art History so in France and around France there’s a lot of Western European art to see. If I wasn’t studying Art history I don’t know if I would have gone to Paris. For me, it was a no-brainer. I also really like medieval art and there is a lot of that in and around Paris.

What does study abroad mean to you?

It’s multiple things. I also went abroad for a semester in high school. I wanted especially to do a Columbia Program abroad because it still had some of the essence of the university but in a different country. It was important to be in a more immersive environment where I had to figure out a different kind of independence and freedom while still within my academic career. I wanted to see what else Columbia had to offer besides the Morningside Heights campus.

You mentioned a “new kind of independence.” Is that something you knew you wanted before coming to France?

Yeah! Being at Columbia in New York is one kind of independence but being the same kind of student with responsibilities and independence in Paris was definitely going to be different so I wanted to push myself to be in environments where I don’t quite understand the culture or where I don’t necessarily feel comfortable at first. I wanted to see how I was able to function by myself without my regular support systems in place.

Everyone thinks that they are ready to study abroad beforehand but when they get there, they feel overwhelmed. Was that your experience?

Yes. I felt so overwhelmed. Being in this city that I didn’t know at all – trying to feel comfortable there was hard. I feel like I would have to go back to Paris to see how I would respond to that environment now. It took a while to adapt to the place and the people there. The way people interact with each other in Paris was a huge difference. The whole process of getting used to the pace of things there took a lot of time and energy. I’m lucky that I met great people at Reid Hall, but the process of making friends can also be tiring.

Personally, how have you grown?

I feel like I’ve overcome some anxieties about being in a foreign place and living there. Especially using the language; that was something I was really nervous about. I definitely grew a lot more comfortable with being wrong and messing up in a different language. Once you do mess up in a new place, it's kind of a relief because I can always just start again! I’ve also become much more aware of how I will make decisions in the future for programs or opportunities that I want to take.

What was the most valuable part of studying abroad for you?

I liked the fact that I had this nicely structured program. To have the campus of Reid Hall as a home-base and a place to learn and be around other people who were learning was great. The twofold aspect of being around other people in my same situation where I feel comfortable and who speak my language but also having a campus amidst this bustling city where I can explore and do things was very valuable. It’s different from regular study abroad programs because you have the opportunity to work with both professors and students and to have different support systems in place to try to immerse yourself into the environment in a productive way.