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Saint Mary’s students adjust to return home

Michelle Eggers | Friday, January 23, 2004

As the semester’s second week draws to a close, Saint Mary’s students who recently returned from studying abroad struggle in their adjustment to campus life. For junior Cynthia Rodriguez, who spent the fall and previous spring semesters in Seville, Spain, returning to Saint Mary’s is “just weird.””It is hard to go from being in a fun city like Seville to being back in South Bend,” she said. Sophomore Jenny Robbins, who spent last semester in Rome, is happy to be back in the Saint Mary’s community, but misses Rome’s cultural activities. “When I was bored last semester, I could walk around Rome,” she said. “Now when I am bored, all there is to do is sit in my room and work.”According to Saint Mary’s counselor Gina Christiana, boredom is a major concern for returning students. Most experience difficulty transitioning from the stimulating abroad experience back to the demanding academic pace of campus. “It’s hard to integrate yourself back into a normal routine,” she said.Establishing a normal routine often means increased amounts of homework and heavier course loads.”The first day back, it was overwhelming to look at the list of all the things I was going to be doing this semester,” Rodriguez said. The Rome campus did not offer many courses Robbins needed for her double major. In order to compensate for last semester’s lack of credits, she now has a heavier than average course load.”It will be a big semester,” she said. “But I am prepared for it.”In addition to establishing a normal routine, most students have trouble emotionally adjusting. Rodriguez was one of four Saint Mary’s students in Seville, so it is difficult for her to find people who can relate to her experience. “You go abroad and make great friends where you were at,” she said. “You come back and you miss your friends, your professors, and your classes. You want to see them and talk to them.”Rodriguez does not talk much about her experience around her Saint Mary’s friends for fear of creating jealousy or boredom. Reconnecting with these friends after a year apart concerned her most as she returned to campus. “It is hard to relate, hard to connect,” she said. “Everyone grows and changes in their year apart.”While Robbins agrees that connecting with her friends has been difficult, she now feels like she has twice as many friends – those from Saint Mary’s and those from Rome.Staying in touch with friends from the abroad experience is important to the adjustment process, Christiana said.”Talking with your abroad friends helps keep the experience alive,” she said.The biggest mistake students make upon returning is not expecting to have some negative feelings, Christiana said. They do not realize it is a grieving process.”You have to let go of something close to you,” she said. “You are going to grieve.”Both Christiana and students returning from abroad agree that the number one method to help with adjustment is to get involved.”Getting involved takes your mind off things,” Robbins said. “When I look at Rome pictures, I still get sad. If I keep my mind of things, I am OK.”Rodriguez said staying active and keeping a positive attitude are also important. Even after just one week back, she has settled into a routine.”Find a schedule and stick to it,” she said. “Keep a positive attitude, be thankful for the memories, and know that one day you will go back.”