“When the Davidson Bubble Bursts” Challenges Standard Study Abroad Discussions

Laura Dunnagan – When the Davidson Bubble Bursts, an event created grant students the platform to discuss their study abroad experiences, held its third annual event Wednesday, March 15. The event was designed to foster a community of support and solidarity for students who have faced challenges like sexual assault, mental and physical health problems, and drug abuse while studying abroad.

“I think we as a school and maybe larger society tend to build up the idea of study abroad as the best thing ever, the best semester of your life,” says Bridget Lavender ’18, co-director of the event with Shannon Hayes ’17. “When you get back, people ask ‘how was it, did you love it?’ but the conversation doesn’t move beyond that. It can get hyped up to be a fairytale dream of a semester, so there’s not a ton of space to acknowledge that it’s still real life.”

Students have the option to write and present at When the Davidson Bubble Bursts. Julia Burkley ’18 was encouraged to write for the event by her advisor after discussing social conflicts she encountered while studying abroad. “[Dr. Wills] challenged me to confront the issues that I faced head on and make sure they didn’t stay hidden,” Burkley comments. “As hard as I thought presenting would be, I knew that it was something that I needed to do to take full ownership of my story.”

Burkley adds that speaking at the event helped her process and accept the difficulties she experienced when studying abroad. “Speaking at this event felt like a victory for me. It gave me power over an experience in which I almost always felt utterly powerless. I was so grateful that I knew that this event existed, because it gave me a space to know that I could process and share it with others in a meaningful way.”

Sophie McHugh ’18 wrote about her experience with sexual assault. “I was raped abroad, and afterwards I felt a mix of really complicated emotions that I hadn’t really heard about in other narratives about sexual assault,” says McHugh. “I knew that I wasn’t alone in my experience, and I wanted to talk about it publically to shed light onto certain aspects about sexual assault that people usually don’t discuss. The event was a platform for me to share my experience in a way that could potentially help people.”

To contribute a male perspective to an event largely dominated by female voices, Jacob Hege ’18 wrote about exploring sexuality while abroad. “This is an incredibly important event for our community,” says Hege. “Since going abroad is such a big part of our campus culture, it is important to hear these stories. After getting back from abroad, you’re not going to share all the hard parts with everyone so it can sometimes seem like everyone’s experience was all roses and if something happened to you abroad that no one else can relate. When the Davidson Bubble Bursts takes that fear away and lets people know they aren’t alone.”

Performers report that the reactions they have received since the event have been overwhelmingly positive. “One of my fears was that speaking at the event would mean officially ‘coming out’ as a victim,” says McHugh. “But since I did it, I’ve received a ton of positive support. Before, I constantly felt like I was hiding something from people in my everyday interactions, but now I’ve divulged it publicly to a lot of people, so it’s not something I feel like I have to hide or bury anymore.”

Burkley also reports receiving positive feedback. “One of the most positive responses that I have heard is from people who have been able to process their own experiences from abroad by being able to empathize and relate to the stories that people shared [at the event],” says Burkley.

“For me, this event is where I get to go and hear the truth about people’s experiences that they may not have told me in a passing conversation,” says Hege.” It’s always an emotional evening and makes me feel closer to the Davidson community.”

The event does not discourage studying abroad, but seeks to encourage conversations about the less positive aspects of living and studying in a different country. “The event deromanticizes study abroad in a safe and still fairly optimistic way,” says Burkley. “It gives people a space to recognize that study abroad throws things at you, and that’s okay and not abnormal.”

When the Davidson Bubble Bursts also seeks to include students who are preparing to go abroad by educating them on realities that can occur while traveling. “We can still talk about the fact that bad things happened, and that doesn’t take away from going abroad,” says Lavender. “We can create a community for people who are about to go abroad so that they understand that there’s a support system here.”

The Study Abroad Office sponsors When the Davidson Bubble Bursts and supports the student planning committee. Abbie Naglosky, Assistant Director of Study Abroad, encourages all students planning to go abroad to familiarize themselves with pre-existing Davidson resources. According to Naglosky, on-campus services still apply for students who reside abroad. “Our office is always available to students, so when they’re abroad, if they’re having transitional issues or any problems while they’re abroad, we’re here to help talk them through,” says Nagloskly.