Students returning to South Bend after studying abroad last semester grapple with more than new classes as they readjust to living on the Notre Dame campus.
Over 350 students traveled abroad during the fall semester, Kathleen Opel, director of the Office of International Studies, said. The largest programs include those in London; Dublin, Ireland; Fremantle, Australia; Rome; Santiago, Chile; and Toledo, Spain; she said.
“Each situation has different adjustment issues, but most students are prepared to readjust when they come back,” Opel said. “Students are familiar with Notre Dame, and they find that they have changed more than we have when they return.”
Junior Lauren Guzman spent her fall semester in Toledo. For Guzman, the pace of daily life was the most striking difference between life in the United States and in Europe.
“In Spain, everyone takes siestas, so everything in the city would be closed from two to five in the afternoon,” she said. “Everything runs a little bit slower there.”
Guzman said that she was ready to return home after her months in Europe, but her semester was a source of lasting friendships and “an overall phenomenal experience.”
While most students felt that the semester program was perfect for their needs, Catherine Scallen wished she had remained for another semester in Toledo.
“Since I traveled so much on the weekends last semester, I did not get to do a lot of things I wanted to with my host family, like visiting their parents in the puebla they grew up in and exploring more of Toledo,” she said. “I’ll miss my host family a lot, along with café con leche, café con helado and European shopping.”
Nicole Ashley, another junior returning from Toledo, said that her time abroad was her best semester so far at Notre Dame. She lived in a historic part of the city with her host parents and their seven children.
“Lunch is a really big meal in Spain, and the kids and parents can come home to eat during the middle of the day,” Ashley said. “Being all together was really fun, even if the situation seemed hectic with so many people.”
Ashley also said she enjoyed traveling throughout Europe as well as participating in Spanish culture. She said that the overall experience was worth the price of missing football season back in South Bend.
“I will definitely miss being able to speak Spanish on a daily basis the most,” she said. “When I got back, I had to stop expecting to speak the language all the time.”
Juniors Mikey Maurer and Sam Russ were two of 18 students studying in Pueblo, Mexico, during the fall semester.
“I thought that the most difficult part of adjusting to Mexican culture was dealing with the assumptions about Americans and sticking out as a foreigner,” said Maurer.
Russ said life in Pueblo followed a slower pace than in the United States.
His professors structured class along less defined lines than professors at Notre Dame, and Russ said he had more free time to adventure throughout Mexico both on weekends and during the week.
“At the same time, I wouldn’t have wanted another semester in Mexico,” said Russ. “I feel like my time away from Notre Dame refreshed it for me, and I am glad to be back.”
Maurer also found that the semester program fit well with his academic goals — he is pursuing a career in medicine — and it allowed him to broaden his ideas for his future to include using Spanish in a more international capacity.
“I learned a lot about adaptability and flexibility,” said Maurer. “To really become culturally immersed, I had to be willing to start a conversation with a stranger, ask questions, seek out opportunities and be innovative when everything was not as I planned.”
“I really hope that I never forget what I learned through this experience,” he said.