Students returning from abroad discuss reverse culture shock
Here at Colby, students are presented with numerous opportunities to study abroad. Many take advantage of the chance to do so and travel to different parts of the globe to engage in independent study, community service and cultural immersion.
Being within a different cultural context from one’s own raises a vast array of challenges, even beyond the academic. Nevertheless, when the time comes, the overseas study experience has to end. There is an anticipation of once again seeing friends, family, professors and food, all of which were dearly missed.
Yet, there is always the prospect that things at home could have changed during one’s time away, and the anxiety of possibly experiencing culture shock in your own country kicks in.
Molly Colman ’13 spent last fall in Peru. She took four classes, taught Peruvian children English and worked in a center for domestic workers established by Charles A. Dana Professor Luis Millones’ family called La Casa de Panchita. Amid all her endeavors, she missed the people at Colby. “I missed my friends, mostly because I knew that they were going to be abroad in the spring [while I would be back on-campus],” she said.
Charlotte Veazie ’12, who was in Australia during the fall of her junior year, missed the intimate student-teacher relationships so prized here at Colby. “A wonderful thing about Colby is how small the classes are. Even as a freshman, you can become close to your professors. In Australia, even though I was taking more specialized courses, the classes were still huge,” she said.
Aside from missing certain people in his life, David DiNicola ’15, who studied in Dijon his first semester, had an eccentric culinary experience while in France. “My host mom was Czech, so when she cooked, the food was a mixture of French, Czech and American. Things were just not the same,” he said.
In contrast, Ben Cook ’13J felt most anxious about coming back to Colby. Having spent two JanPlans abroad, a semester in Madagascar, and last fall in Dijon with DiNicola and 21 others, Cook said that he had worries every time he came back. “In my experience abroad, there was no emphasis on a structured classroom environment. You learned the language by speaking. You learned about politics by being involved in local politics. It is always hard to come back and jump right into things and take classes with a more structured schedule,” he said.
Although she missed her professors, Veazie shared similar sentiments with Cook. “As a student abroad, you have less schoolwork. You have this time in your life when you are in another country with friends, doing crazy things without thinking so much about repercussions. Life is more structured here at Colby,” she said.
Colman was concerned about the social life on the Hill. “Going out at least two nights [a week]? I used to like that, but not as much now,” she said. “Perhaps partying on-campus just doesn’t compare to seeing the ruins of Machu Picchu.”
For Noah VanValkenburg ’13, however, there was no such apprehension. After spending a semester in Amman, Jordan learning Arabic and writing a report on Jordanian security and terrorism, he said that he missed the classes at Colby. He remarked on how much he longed for the College while in Jordan, especially when he looked through his friend’s Facebook profiles. “I think that, had I gone to another college, I would not have been as excited to be back. But the number of things you can do [here at Colby] is so much more than in Jordan,” he said.
Still, VanValkenburg did say that he misses the ability to move around a city like Amman. Being in an urban environment, one has access to public transportation, though with varying degrees of reliability. Colman agreed, saying she missed “the crazy rush of people” in Lima, while DiNicola commented that “Dijon, even though a small city by American standards, had a decent bus system.”
DiNicola added that in Dijon, the students spent more time in the city itself, while at Colby, “a lot of what happens happens on campus.” Veazie concurred, saying, “Half the things I did in Australia, I did off-campus. I felt that I met someone new everyday. Here, we have the same routine. In a way, Colby is kind of a little bubble.”
All in all, in spite of the difficulties brought about by studying abroad and coming back to the United States, the experience of going overseas for an extended period of time is a rewarding one.
Cook and Colman recognized the benefits of studying abroad. “Even though there were a lot of things that I was interested in that was happening at Colby, I always remembered [my good fortune] of having the opportunity to study abroad,” Cook said. “I have changed personally [because of the trip],” Colman added.
Both VanValkenburg and DiNicola reflected upon the profundity of their learning experiences overseas. “As a government major, I studied all these things [about politics in the Middle East] and thought I knew it. I came to Jordan and learned how little I actually knew,” VanValkenburg said. For himself, DiNicola said that spending his first college semester in Dijon provided “an education [he] may not have gotten anywhere else.”
Now nearing the end of her college career, Veazie recommended that each Colby student spend some part of his or her college life away from the Hill. “After coming back, I realized that there was so much outside Colby that I can experience,” she said. “I’m much more open-minded now than I was before. Now, I just want to travel. There’s more out there in the world to experience.”