Editor’s note: This feature story on Brigid Smith ’22 is the second of six that will appear this summer about College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University graduates who have received awards from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
Home is wherever her feet are for Brigid Smith ’22.
That’s somewhat by default because she’s been bouncing around the globe as long as she can remember. At 4, her family moved to Berlin because her father (Mike Smith ’94) took a job there as principal of a German-American school. At 6, she was in Saudi Arabia, again because her dad took a similar position at an expatriate school in Dhahran.
After six years in the Middle East, her family returned to the U.S. because Mike became superintendent of a group of Catholic Schools in Fargo, North Dakota. After her sophomore year at Fargo Shanley High School, they were off again, to El Salvador. Then it was back to Dhahran, where Mike became superintendent over the same school at which he’d been principal.
There was little doubt where she would go to college. Her mom, Katie Breen Smith ’94, attended the College of Saint Benedict. Brigid’s older brother, Connor ’20, followed his father to Saint John’s University, and their grandfathers, George Smith ’65 and Don Breen ’56, also are alumni – along with various aunts and uncles. While her family name is simultaneously ubiquitous and anonymous on either campus, she didn’t even try to explain where she was from when new acquaintances would ask.
“I’d just say, ‘River Falls, Wisconsin,’ because I don’t think they wanted to sign up for a 10-minute conversation,” Brigid said. “It’s a long story.”
Inevitably, her friends would learn that River Falls was merely where her parents bought a condo just before they left for El Salvador, to serve as their base when in America. While Brigid had occasionally visited family in Hudson, Osceola and Amery, she was otherwise unfamiliar with western Wisconsin.
At CSB, where her younger sister, Fiona, will be a junior this fall, Brigid didn’t have to ask directions.
“I spent so much time overseas and my parents were going to be still overseas, so I wanted to come somewhere that felt like home,” she said. “It felt like I had family by me, and Saint Ben’s was this safe, supportive community. My friends that I made here, and my professors, made it such a special place. We always say that, but I think if you come to Saint Ben’s you have these certain values that are a part of you, and that means you’re all there for the same reasons and want to support each other.”
About the only time Brigid was on campus this spring was to walk at graduation. She studied in Spain during her final semester, lived with a host family, and her Spanish “incredibly increased.”
After a brief pit-stop back in the States, she’ll whip out that passport again in August to travel to Colombia, where she’ll be an English Teaching Assistant in Tunja, Colombia, at la Universidad de Boyacá.
She’s one of six CSB and SJU grads who have earned Fulbright Student awards for 2022-23.
“I chose Colombia largely because of my time in El Salvador,” said Brigid. “I fell in love with speaking Spanish. And, not to generalize, but the people in Central and South America are very open and loving. I got to visit Colombia because a friend of my dad’s is from Medellin. The Colombians I met are very proud of their country. It’s had a difficult past, but they want to show that it’s got great people and an interesting culture.
“Growing up overseas, being uncomfortable in the sense that I’m challenged every day in a different culture and a different language is something that I like,” she added. “I’ve been interested in doing something with NGOs (non-government organizations) and community-based development. I see my opportunity as a Fulbright as a chance to develop relationships and talk with people across different cultures. Maybe in Colombia, I’ll find a job and stay there, or I’ll get my master’s.”
For most of her college career, Brigid worked as a tutor in the CSB and SJU Writing Center. She said meeting new students every day and honing her skills alongside her peers was some of her most valuable experience. And there might be a lesson there for future Fulbrights, too, as half of this year’s class were, in fact, members of the Writing Center.
Of course, Brigid had other credentials, too. In addition to being a dean’s list regular and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, she also previously served as an outreach intern for The Advocacy Project, a nonprofit focused on assisting marginalized communities around the globe. It all grew from the education she got in Germany, Saudi Arabia, North Dakota and El Salvador.
“It was a great learning experience to go to school with people all over the world,” Brigid said. “I think that’s what planted the seed in me of wanting to travel and form relationships with people from other cultures.
“I want to work overseas. Fulbright is a really good thing to start that out with. I’ve already had a long journey to get where I am. A lot of people might be like ‘Oh, my gosh, I just want to be in one place. I want to be in the U.S. I want to be home.’ But I love this. I love traveling. I don’t feel like I’m from one place.”
CSB and SJU students interested in applying for a Fulbright Award for the 2023-24 academic year should contact Phil Kronebusch, professor of political science and coordinator of competitive fellowships at CSB and SJU, or Lindsey Gunnerson Gutsch, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research at CSB and SJU.