BEAM and the Bubble
Freshman year, I didn’t get out much. Before you start assuming I was a shy, introverted hermit who never socialized with my peers, I mean getting out more in the metaphorical sense—the metaphor being the “college bubble.” As adventurous and exploratory as I thought I would be upon coming to college, in reality, I rarely left Brown’s campus last year.
For the most part, it was simply because there was never really any reason for me to brave the great beyond, no pull strong enough for me to abandon the cobbled streets surrounding Brown in exchange for the cobbled streets of downtown Providence. I lived in a dorm that was five minutes from my classes, three minutes from the closest library, two minutes from the Ratty, 30 seconds from the nearest gym, two seconds from my best friends… I had everything I thought I needed pretty close by.
Which left me feeling a little conflicted. Was I missing out by eating all my meals on campus and not trying that new taco place downtown or by not taking the train to Boston on that three-day weekend? Well, maybe. But luckily, I had one saving grace: Once a week, I took the RIPTA (for those of you unfamiliar, that’s the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, which offers FREE bus transportation for Brown students) into Olneyville, a neighborhood in Providence. I was a volunteer with the Brown Elementary After-school Mentoring (BEAM) program, and my fellow teachers and I planned and taught lessons in the visual and performing arts for students at the D’Abate Elementary school two hours a week.
There was something about escaping campus, even for a few hours, that was beneficial for my mental state. All of my problems—that pesky comp. lit paper, anxiety about finding a summer internship, even boy drama—seemed so insignificant as soon as I got away from the Van Wickle gates and the Main Green. Though Brown often felt like it was the whole world, my weekly visits to D’Abate Elementary reminded me that it was only a fraction.
Not only did BEAM provide that much-needed opportunity to actually leave campus, but it also introduced me to a new community of people. Over the course of a year, I first got to know an eager class of third graders, then, the next semester, a rowdy-but-sweet group of fifth graders. Once I’d learned all the students’ names, I spent time discovering their passions and hobbies so I could plan entertaining activities like drawing comic strips and writing and performing rap songs. They would ask questions about me and my background: where I came from and what exactly Brown was like. I knew when I took the bus to Olneyville each week, I wasn’t just exploring Providence; I was actually interacting with the people who live there, the people outside of Brown’s borders.
This isn’t to say that BEAM was the only time I ever left campus—I certainly made some infrequent visits to all the usual freshman haunts. I went to Providence Place a few times (always by Uber, because somehow a walk that is more than 15 minutes seems very long when you can cross campus in under 10); I partied down at Colosseum, where I simultaneously had my first kiss and learned that a kiss in a club doesn’t mean anything; I saw one of my favorite artists, Regina Spektor, at Lupo’s in the spring, and, not gonna lie, felt like a total badass because I was at a concert on a Monday night; I traveled once to Newport, but didn’t even do that right, because I went with my parents on Family Weekend on a dreary, rainy day (instead of going in September to the beach and taking loads of Instagrammable pics with my friends). Then there were the short road trips to nearby schools for Frisbee tournaments, and sometimes, hiking all the way to the Nelson felt like a sizeable journey. But, while these ventures were few and far between, BEAM gave me a routine and meaningful reason to exit the college gates once a week, leaving me mentally refreshed and re-energized.
I’m not saying that in order to have a well-rounded undergraduate experience, you need to constantly be exploring Providence and the surrounding cities. Like I said, I rarely left campus except with BEAM and on a few other occasions. But, while Brown is a relatively diverse school, it is still certainly not an accurate representation of the world. The advantage of a volunteer program like BEAM (and other organizations in the Swearer Center) is that it becomes a built-in opportunity to envelop yourself in a different environment, to become not just a part of Brown, but also a part of the Providence community.