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Typically, the distinction between the object of interest and surroundings is the reaction vessel where the pertinent reaction is occurring and the rest of the universe. There are also cases where there are arbitrary boundaries made to distinguish the system from the rest of the universe, used more often in physics.
The system + the surroundings make up the universe. If the system is a reaction, then everything else is the surroundings. Simply put, if something is not the system, it is a part of the surroundings.
The system is the part of the universe that is being studied while the surroundings are the rest of the universe that interacts with the system. A system and its surroundings can be as large as the forests in South America and as small as the contents inside a beaker in a chemistry lab.
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