A Schnitzel That Gave Me Ten New Best Friends

By Imman Merdanovic

I grew up in a beautiful city in Bosnia, yet wanderlust took me far from home at a very young age. I was sixteen when I moved to the Netherlands and faced culture shock for the first time. Two years later, after exploring all of Europe and having the time of my life in Africa and Dubai, I moved to Canton to only discover what a real culture shock was! “Here they dip pizza in ranch, wear baseball hats ALL THE TIME and eat Nutella with bacon,” I told my mom, who pretty-much made the story famous at home. And just when I thought I earned my P.h.d. in culture shock, it hit me once again— this time as I returned back to SLU from an off-campus program in New York City. Luckily, a CIIS Living-Learning Community came to rescue, blessing me with ten new best friends and a safe environment in which telling that good old Broadway story for the fifth time became completely normal.

Imman Merdanovic in NYC, Fall 2016

I remember walking into the class for the first time: ten students, equally as confused, talking about all the food they tasted abroad— schnitzel, waffles, crêpes, scones… words that bonded us immediately! Not only did we live on the same floor and learned about travel-writing in a two-hour class, but we also cooked foods from abroad at our professor’s house, and let me tell you— was it a feast! Living together and sharing those cool experiences with each other truly brought out gang together, so much so that by the end of the semester we attended each other’s games, plays and concerts, and became each other’s biggest fans.

Together, we helped each other get back into our normal campus routine. We overcame the famous ‘pub panic attack,’ which happens after the first time you try to order something from the pub after a long time. Most importantly— we developed mutual understanding and helped each other grow as global citizens. Our passports, American, Canadian and European, now all share inspiring stories of just how important it is to get out of your comfort zone and explore the world.Our passports, American, Canadian and European, now all share inspiring stories of just how important it is to get out of your comfort zone and explore the world.

Today, I am not only proud of the experiences I have had abroad, but also of the one I have had as part of the SLU ‘FYP for grown-ups,’ as we call it. Today, I proudly declare the Living- Learning Community my greatest experience at SLU. Today, I can safely say that P.h.d. in culture shock is not a thing— travel is about learning, about crossing boundaries and mastering the fear of strangers, about making the effort to understand other cultures and thereby empowering yourself. My CIIS community has empowered me as much as living in New York City, and just as life never stops teaching, I believe I will never stop learning. Perhaps, some of us will never get a chance to return to those wonderful places and continue their journeys, but together we have created a magical community in which tackling those memories has become a second nature.

How St. Lawrence Tackles Reverse Culture Shock

By Imman Merdanovic

With the new ranking as top 15 schools for study-abroad, St. Lawrence faces a new challenge: making sure that those returning back are just as prepared as those taking off. In addition to reverse culture shock, one of the challenges of re-entry is that students run out of venues for telling their abroad stories. After the second time you mention that sunset in Venice, the Red Light District in Amsterdam or the Eiffel Tower, your friends’ eyes start to glaze over. To ease the transition, St. Lawrence has launched an Intercultural Living-Learning Community in Kirk Douglass Hall.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 12.59.18 PM

Brenda Winn spent her semester abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Coming back to SLU was definitely disorienting – I basically had a panic attack the first time I tried to order something in the pub,” said Winn. “The best part about this program, which we call ‘FYP for adults,’ was the community that was instantly formed when we got back to campus. We could talk about being abroad without boring other people or getting funny looks,” added Winn.

Students having dinner at professor Natalia Singer's house
Students having dinner at professor Natalia Singer’s house

Jacqui Ebeling, who studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, is grateful for the new insights that this program offered to her. “I love the little community that formed. We attend each others plays and club meetings, read each others articles, and get lunch together. Who knew that two years in I’d be exposed to so many new things on campus,” said Ebeling.

The students not only had a chance to reflect on their own experiences abroad, but also learned a lot about the places where their peers went. “Although I have never been to Australia, I feel like I have a good grasp of it now because of this class,” said Grace Bodkin, who studied abroad in London, England. Winn, much like the rest of the class agrees, “We shared stories of where we went, train rides, malfunctions, or plans that went awry. We also looked at how our host families and travels helped us change and grow and that meant a lot to me,” added Winn.

Caroline Seelen, who spent a semester in Prague says the program helped her become a global citizen, “I was also able to becomes even more of a global citizen than I had become while abroad because I could learn about the experiences of others,” said Seelen.
Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 1.00.34 PM

Ebeling sees this class as the perfect opportunity to reflect on the self. “Something that resonated with me the most was an article we read, its take-away message was ‘you’re still youwhile abroad.’ I was expecting some major transformative period. Living in Prague for four months didn’t change me on the outside like I thought it would, but it did change my perspective. And that shouldn’t be taken for granted,” said Ebeling.

Being able to reflect on one’s abroad experience without the fear of judgement is invaluable. “I think the most important thing I learned was the solidarity that we all have after being abroad. No matter how bad or sad or messed up I thought something had been abroad, it turns out almost always, someone in the class had been through the same thing or something just like that,” said Winn.

Seelen shares the contempt, “The most valuable thing I learned was that no matter where you study abroad you will have struggles, but you will also grow as a person and learn about the world around you,” said Seelen.

Perhaps, some of us will never return to those places, but together we have created a community where, through the laughter and tears, tackling those memories has become a second nature.