Growing up in a small, rural community, Erik Smith '22 was eager to learn about and experience the wider world. A gap year in India, an international-studies major and a study-abroad experience in Jordan opened new windows, and so has Dickinson’s on-campus community. Below, Smith discusses lessons learned through a beekeeping internship and activist movements as well as the importance of cultivating open-mindedness and a sense of community.
Clinton, New York.
Clubs and organizations:
Model U.N, The Square, WDCV-FM, Tree Club/Divest Dickinson, Climbing Team, Outing Club, Arabic Club and The Hive.
First-Year Seminar Excellence in Writing Award (2020).
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin.
The Big Lebowski.
Best thing about my Dickinson experience:
It has to be the people! Like any community, there are many I do not know half as well as I should like, and perhaps others I do not like half as well as they deserve. However, I have met students and faculty here whom I am so glad to have in my life. They help me to constantly challenge my beliefs and learn, and I do the same for them. An open mind is a great thing, but it can be hard to find. I’ve found, thanks to countless conversations and experiences with these people (you know who you are!), that an open mind is not something you do or don’t have. It’s something you do or don’t do, and even more than any other, that daily practice is far easier and more enjoyable with others joining you in it.
Favorite place on campus:
The red maple in front of Outhouse [the Outing Club special interest house] (#1134 - thanks GIS!).
Favorite Dining Hall food:
The vegan apple cake.
I interned with a local business, Honey Bee Friendly, last summer and loved it. I couldn’t have found it without Dickinson’s Center for Sustainability Education! I’ll be returning to Honey Bee Friendly this summer, allowing me some more time to enjoy this area and, hopefully, work somewhere else in addition; I’ve been applying to a number of immigration and refugee-resettlement organizations to start. I’m most excited for the opportunity to lay down roots in a community. Even if I do end up moving in a few years, the knowledge that I won’t have to gives me hope for making effective change in my environment and being recognized as a meaningful part of it.
Oh, and I can’t wait to have time to return to crocheting and start learning to make my own clothes. Work isn’t the only thing to be ambitious about!
About my internship:
Last spring, I interned with the Center for Sustainability Education, managing The Hive, Dickinson’s beekeeping collective. Although I applied on a whim because I’d always enjoyed bees and The Hive, the experience allowed me room to explore this interest and realize it went far deeper than I ever expected. It led to a summer internship with Honey Bee Friendly, a small, local company familiar to many Dickinsonians for their honey sales at the farmers market, and I will return to Honey Bee Friendly after graduation. I never thought an international-studies major would lead me to beekeeping, but I never would have appreciated it as deeply as I do now without the personal exploration and ecological perspectives my experience these past few years has given me.
Favorite class/learning experience so far:
I came to Dickinson from a very small, rural community, so I was excited to find others who are passionate about justice and all that jazz, and to get involved with political activism. Though it often connected to our classroom work, the relationship was often the opposite: my classwork would expose systemic problems in our global society, giving me perspective to do what I could to change it on a local level, despite the broad reach of my major. Through student movements, I saw the strength of solidarity and the joy we can have and share as a community in the face of oppressive hierarchies, while learning to recognize opposition strategies that activists must regularly overcome.
On studying abroad:
I took a gap year before Dickinson to study in India, so I thought I’d be prepared for a semester in Amman, Jordan. However, the first few months were a huge struggle for me, as the program there had shrunk considerably due to COVID-19, and the social atmosphere with the other American students felt claustrophobic for me (though they were all great people!). A massive turning point came when I discovered a local meetup for ultimate frisbee, a game I used to play with Dickinson’s club and have always deeply enjoyed. The local connections I made there helped me realize how valuable a shared interest can be, no matter where I’m coming from—geographically or emotionally. It also gave me a familiar foundation from which to develop my linguistic and cultural knowledge in a more meaningful and quotidian context.
Most important thing I’ve learned so far:
Everything is a process. Everything is always changing. The chaos of our world can be terrifying and provoke strong reactions. The defiant act of accepting its unknowable beauty is not only more fun in the end; it is also a much more effective way to stand up to the really scary parts of it: those that offer the seductive comfort of order and convenience at the cost of moral complexity.
Advice for younger students:
Nobody knows what they’re doing. Some are better at pretending than others—many convince even themselves—but once you’re truly certain, you’ve never been more wrong. Never stop learning, but don’t let this humility stop you from doing great things, even if you have to fumble through them!
Read more Student Snapshots.
Published May 19, 2022