Simineri: Burst the Bubble

Living in a bubble of complacency is first and foremost a choice.

by Nicole Simineri | 9/12/17 12:50am

Welcome to the Dartmouth bubble! Or that’s what they call it, anyway. For you first-years here, if you haven’t heard this expression yet, you will very soon. You are, after all, in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire, population you. Despite the fact that I am now an alumna who graduated this past spring, the expression continues to follow me even now. I finally “escaped the Dartmouth bubble,” one person congratulates me, while another chimes, “Welcome to the real world.”

But I never liked the term “the Dartmouth bubble.” It seemed belittling, as if the excitement I felt about going to campus for my first term, the nerves that tingled throughout my body upon arriving that first day and the crying, the laughing, the memories I made and the relationships I built during my four years there were not real. All were just some fleeting artificial byproduct of being a Dartmouth student. But it all felt very real. It all was very real.

More than that, the Dartmouth bubble is an arrant misnomer. If you take it to mean four years of easier access to resources than usually can be found in the outside world combined with relentlessly high levels of stress and pressure to succeed, then, yes, the Dartmouth bubble as a term has some accuracy, but no more than it would have on any other college campus. If it means living in blissful ignorance of the world, however, then that can — and does — happen everywhere.

During my time at Dartmouth, I tried to take advantage of every opportunity to study or volunteer abroad, and I loved being able to explore the world with groups of my peers. Yet each time I traveled I also witnessed how easy it can be to limit yourself to familiar faces and familiar talking points and to attempt to transplant Dartmouth culture — old concepts like pong or tails — into new countries and environments. In the process, you can construct a Dartmouth bubble around yourself, thousands of miles away from the Dartmouth campus. Living in a bubble is not a lifestyle that Dartmouth forces upon its students. It is a choice, and when you decide to be content with being content, you have made that choice. The Dartmouth bubble serves only to justify that choice — to justify complacency.

That is not to say that the infamous Dartmouth bubble is the only one of its kind; it is simply the one that we as Dartmouth students hear about most often. I have studied in London and Tokyo and worked in Washington, D.C. and New York City, and each of these sprawling metropolises had their own bubbles. The only difference is that few ever talk about or even recognize them. Being from such places, as I myself am, does not automatically make you smarter or tougher or more cosmopolitan. It just means that you have had more opportunities to leave — or, fail to leave — the cozy complacencies that so many of us fall into. Bubbles happen everywhere, and Dartmouth is not the exception — it is the rule.

Even as I jumped from place to place over the years, I was still living in a bubble entirely independent of my location. I just did not realize it until much later, when 2016 hit me with wave after wave of unwelcome surprises that made me question the world I thought I knew. Clearly, no place and no one is immune, and bubbles can form anywhere and anytime you let them. Bubbles are cozy and comfortable. But if you are not at least a little uncomfortable some of the time, then you are in a bubble all of the time. And that is why perhaps the most meaningful lesson I gained from my time abroad has been learning how to burst my own bubble — learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

During the last four years, I have learned that the world ends with you. It ends at your horizons. It ends when you decide you have already seen and learned as much about it as you need or care to. The world around you stops growing when you decide it has — and as a consequence, you stop growing, too. Whether you are in rural New Hampshire or in the heart of New York City, if you are not seeking out opportunities to learn and do different things, meet different people and engage in different conversations, you are almost certainly living in a bubble, shielding yourself from your own self-development.

Of course, this is easier said than done, and not everyone has the time or resources to find such opportunities. Of course, during finals the only thing on your mind will be how to cram 10 weeks worth of materials into a single frantic night in the stacks. But at the end of the day, your finals will be over and you will still be Dartmouth students, blessed with the opportunities that the name provides. If anyone has the time, the resources and, I hope, the motivation to see beyond the bubble — wherever and whatever it may be — it should be you. It should be us.

I never liked the term, “the Dartmouth bubble,” but I hope it will serve as a reminder to you, as it does for me, to keep expanding your world, both on campus and off, both while a student and after. As I start my life as an alumna, I am beginning to look back at my time at Dartmouth as a time when I gained not just perspective academically but also perspective on the world beyond my own bubble. I am taking that lesson — that attitude — with me in my post-graduate life, and I hope you can one day, too.

Simineri is a former member of The Dartmouth Senior Staff and is a member of the Class of 2017.