Crossing Paths, Building Bonds: The Spelman Exchange Experience

Exchange students enjoying Friendsmas
Exchange students enjoying Friendsmas
B. Benjamin

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I didn’t begin any friendships during my first year with my classmates. And if I’m being frank, I never really intended to. Then, by fate (or maybe the lack thereof in seats in the room), I sat next to this random girl I never planned to hang out beyond the classroom walls.  

Although I did not quite know it yet, this “random” girl would become one of my closest friends in the brief time she would be at Spelman, and she would introduce me to a community of people who would end up meaning so much to me after one semester. 


Join me as I interview four incredible domestic exchange students whom I had the honor of befriending during their short-lived time here to learn more about their experience here at Spelman and the impact the program leaves on our sisters beyond the gates.  

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Idrie Bailey is a Performance Major and a global studies minor from New Orleans, Louisiana. She attends Berklee College of Music and plays the trumpet. While studying at Spelman, she studied performance and political science.  

Taylor Hall is a junior African American studies major with an education studies minor from Atlanta, Georgia. She attends Stanford University. 

Neleh Hopper is a Psychology major with minors in African and African American Studies and Spanish from St. Louis. She attends Duke University.


Tell me about your introduction to the domestic exchange program here at Spelman. What intrigued you about it? 

Idrie: “At Berklee, the Spelman x Berklee Exchange Program is very new. I was given the opportunity to be the first student from Berklee to participate. My mentor, the AMAZING Tia Fuller, called me one day, and she was like, ‘I have an amazing opportunity. Do you want to go to Spelman?” And I was like, go to the number one HBCU? Of Course!” 

Growing up in New Orleans, Idrie was deeply immersed in Black culture, but attending school in Boston felt like a huge culture shift. 

“I was intrigued by the program because I knew Atlanta was going to feel like another home. I wanted to experience the AUC and see what the hype was about.” 

Like Idrie, Destiny recalls feeling this drastic shift as she began her education at Duke. Growing up in Black spaces, she was not prepared for the cultural shift that awaited her at Duke. 

Destiny: “My freshman year was really hard. I was thinking of transferring to an HBCU constantly. And so, when I came across the program, I knew I wanted to be in an environment with all Black women. A lot of my personal research and my passion is focusing on the Black experience in the South, so Spelman felt like the automatic choice.” 


What is the biggest difference you noticed between your current institution and Spelman? 

Taylor: “One of the things that stuck out to me is that it feels like a community here. Back at my school, I felt like I interacted mostly with the Black student population or the population who specifically worked within my major, and here, I felt like I have met so many kinds of people. So, I would say the biggest difference is community and feeling like I am a part of that community.” 

Neleh: “To build on like what Taylor was saying, I noticed that Spelman’s traditions strengthen your community. Y’all take that Spelman sisterhood really seriously because y’all have this shared experience. Like yes, being at Duke and being Black allows for this shared experience, but it’s not like something that bonds us between generations like it does at Spelman.”


What was your favorite experience or memory at Spelman? 

While I expected them to rave about Homecoming. For Idrie and Destiny, their favorite memories were always the nights we spent together in the lounge areas. 

Idrie: “My favorite memory was being in the lounge and playing games together.” 

Destiny: “There are so many memories I could share, but just being in the lounge… Eating, playing cards, staying up till 2 in the morning. You could have such a draining day, and someone would just be like are you going to the lounge? So yeah, the lounge just has so many core memories for real.” 


Is there anything you would change about your Spelman experience or something you regret not doing? 

As a collective, Destiny and Idrie can agree that they regret not doing another semester. 

Idrie: “I regret not doing another semester because I felt like this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Every aspect of the school was made for Black integrity, and I just wish that I were able to cherish that for longer. At Spelman, I felt like I was truly living and loving every single moment.” 


Do you think Spelman contributed to your growth, and if so, how? 

Taylor: “Being here has really emphasized understanding and valuing your womanhood as a Black woman. I feel like at Spelman, I was really taught to celebrate myself and others out loud.” What was your biggest takeaway from this experience, and what advice would you give other domestic exchange students? 

“Get on that email list. There are so many cool events out there that you won’t know about because you are not on that email list. It’ll be the events you’ll be dragging your feet to go to, and they’ll be amazing and powerful. You’re not getting this anywhere else, so really appreciate it,” said Taylor.  

“Have fun. Not too much, but just know that these are the years you’re going to look back on and that you will be the proudest of. Take time for yourself to do things that you love, especially in a place like this.” said Idrie.  

“Stack yo’ bread, live in the moment, and do not let anything stress you out. You don’t know when you’re gonna be in an environment like this again, so literally take advantage and don’t let minuscule things cloud your experience because you’re worried about something that’s unnecessary.” said Destiny. 

“Every experience is valuable. If you’re interested in something, just try it. Even if it is just for a semester, you never know what types of people you’ll meet and what connections you could make.” said Neleh. 


Although their time here was short-lived. These four will never lose the memories and sisters they gained here. While I gained close friendships with the four, I also gained many lessons.  

After welcoming new members into the sisterhood, I learned to value Spelman College even more and to be more mindful about how I utilize my time here. I also hope other Spelman students will make an effort to connect with our sisters beyond the campus gates.

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