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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Campus Life March 6, 2019

One Student: Pages for the Ages

Iris Afantchao
Government major Iris Afantchao ’20 discovered a passion for working in the archives. Photo: Kathleen Dooher

Iris Afantchao ’20 likes to make lists.

The one she made late in her first semester—after completing her first midterms, playing her first season on the Smith volleyball team and singing her way through a rigorous practice schedule with the Smithereens a cappella group—helped her survive and even find a few rare chunks of free time outside her tightly committed schedule.

“Balance is the key! I could use some of that time to take a nap to refuel my mind and take care of myself,” she said. “Classes come first when you’re at school, but you need to have enough energy to produce quality work.” The productivity she strove for early paid off when Afantchao, now a junior, packed her suitcases in January and took a flight to Geneva, Switzerland, where she began a six-month semester at the University of Geneva. Here she talks about her study-abroad trip and her new enthusiasm for working in the archives.

I HAVE NEVER BEEN OVERSEAS, BUT study abroad has always been a huge interest for me. I want to perfect my French and study international government and politics. I have customized my experience a little with an internship that works well with both my government major and my archives concentration. I will be interning at the DOCIP, the Center for Documentation, Research and Information. It is a Swiss not-for-profit, funded by the EU, whose primary objective is to support indigenous peoples, mainly within the framework of the UN and European institutions. I imagine I will be helping people who are doing research with documentation services and perhaps helping with oral histories.

I DECIDED ON THE ARCHIVES CONCENTRATION in my sophomore year. I took an introductory archives concentration course, and I liked it. There were aspects to it that really interested me—not just keeping records for official reporting, but also just seeing the amount of material that we have in the Sophia Smith Collection representing both people and organizations having to do with women’s history. Last summer, I was working in the archives when the papers and materials of the Jane Fonda collection started arriving for processing, so that was exciting.

THE RANGE OF HOLDINGS is amazing. So many boxes. Not enough time. There is so much documentation of the lives and stories of women. I have been reading some of the papers, letters, diaries written by Smith students from the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is interesting to see that they had some of the same stresses that current Smithies do—food, studies, homesickness. What’s new for me is that I’m now looking into graduate school for archival study. I thought I would be going straight into the field of government. But I decided this past summer to consider more studies in archival science because I like the field so much.

I AM A FIRST-GENERATION Togolese American. My parents came here in the early ’90s from Togo in West Africa. There are not many Togolese Americans in the U.S. because those who emigrate usually go where French, the official language of Togo, is spoken. At Smith I find commonalities of experience with other students [of different cultures or ethnicities]. I find that we have more similarities than I’d expect on first meeting. There are little ways that we go about living, our habits and the things we value, that are often the same. I have Korean and Guyanese friends and yet we still have things in common. That makes me confident about being in Geneva this semester. It’s such an international city, and I am used to being able to find commonalities among people and places, everywhere I go.

Spring 2019 Smith Alumnae Quarterly