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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Rediscovering home

Students reflect on difficulty coming back from abroad

During the first semester of my junior year, I studied abroad in Leuven, Belgium and interned at the European Parliament. While abroad, I grew into a savvy traveler and an independent student.

Coming back to Saint Joseph’s University was a difficult transition. In Europe, I consistently felt like I was taking risks, learning about myself and challenging my greatest fears. But back on campus, I felt stuck and limited.

Kelly Horning, the assistant director for semester abroad and health and safety at the Center for International Programs (CIP) at St. Joe’s, said that she understands the many issues that students like me face when coming back from a semester abroad, especially the feelings of isolation.

“A major issue for students is having the feeling that you have no one to talk to,” Horning said. “Students often feel that people are over it.”

Bridget Mullen, ’18, shared these feelings when she returned from a semester abroad in Galway, Ireland.

“I thought I was prepared, but when I came back I realized I wasn’t,” Mullen said. “I had assumed that I changed and my friends at home did not. But my friends in America had grown, too, just as I did.”

Dan Soucy ’18 in front of the Taj Mahal (Photo courtesy of Dan Soucy ’18).

CIP offers an online guide that provides resources for students when they return to the states. After searching my CIP page, I found the re-entry manual which gives tips for returning home on topics like preparing for the adjustment process, seeking support networks and reserving judgments. It also lists re-entry challenges like boredom, relationship changes and feelings of alienation.

As one way to counter difficulties in re-entry, Horning suggested students join Peer Ambassadors, a program in which returning students volunteer at the Study Abroad Fair, post on CIP’s social media accounts, meet with prospective students or participate in the annual photo contest.

In the past, CIP employees did exit interviews, meeting with every student who travelled abroad. Last year, CIP faced cuts. Now, Horning cannot hold exit interviews with the year’s students by herself.

“It’s hard to meet with all 156 students for 20 to 30 minutes each, on top of processing the next semester’s applications,” Horning said. “I loved doing it, but we were out of resources.”

The office still offers exit interviews, but students must take the initiative of scheduling. Horning said only two out of the 400 students who traveled abroad have participated in exit interviews this year.

Many students said that they did not feel like the programs offered by CIP helped the transition back to campus. Zoe Haveles, ’17, shared these sentiments, especially after her semester in Belgium. Haveles had an exit interview with Horning, but said it felt too general and she couldn’t relate it to her semester abroad.

“I think that everyone’s abroad experiences are different,” Haveles said. “There could be no one uniform program that could help people feel back at home.”

(Photo courtesy of Dan Soucy ’18).

RA, Greta Shanley, ’18, organized an event in Villiger Hall for her first-year residents interested in studying abroad. She asked several students who travelled abroad, including me, to discuss their experiences.

The group was diverse and included students who had studied in India, southern Africa, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Florence and Madrid. Panelists shared their stories, what they had learned about themselves, giving advice to the first-year students and to Shanley herself, who will be studying in Madrid next fall.

Shanley’s event was as much an information session for the first-year students as it was a therapy session for the panelists. What everyone seemed to have in common was that no one was actually prepared for life back on campus.

“Hearing [the panelists’] stories made me nervous,” she said. “When I come back I will be graduating in a few months and may never fully re-adjust, almost making me feel as if this semester is my last to feel comfortable at SJU.”

For Dan Soucy, ’18, who studied abroad in Pune, India, talking about the experience, to others and with others, is key to a smoother re-entry.

“I realized that having longer conversations with people who went abroad is helpful,” Soucy said. “You can hear stories about their experience and share your own.”

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