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.

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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.
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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.