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SMC hosts abroad returnees to help readjust

Caitlin Housley | Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Saint Mary’s Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL) hosted a welcome back event Tuesday with the aim of helping study abroad students readjust to life back home.

At the event, CWIL staff members discussed the readjustment phase that most study abroad returnees face, and they offered suggestions as to how the process could run more smoothly.

“Keep in touch with your friends in your host country,” Alice Siqin Yang, assistant director of Global Education, said. “In addition, join clubs that will help you continue your cultural learning experience.”

Yang discussed many other suggestions, and Maureen Baska, a representative from the Career Crossings Office, discussed ways to market the study abroad experience to potential employers.

“Your abroad experience shows you have acquired certain skills such as independence, maturity, intellectual and cultural curiosity and adaptability that will stand out to potential employers,” Baska said. “Also, study abroad helps some students develop language skills that are useful.”

In addition to the readjustment concerns and business benefits of study abroad, the event also stressed the student view of study abroad. Participants were encouraged to share their stories and their readjustment struggles.

Abby Altman, a Saint Mary’s junior who studied in Austria, discussed the United States customs she had forgotten.  

“In Austria, it was normal to pay for using a public restroom. Then, when I was back in the United States, I remember being in the airport and seeing water fountains out in the open and thinking, ‘Bathrooms are free!'”

Other students shared stories of growth and realization. One student mentioned an experience in China where she discussed the meaning of love in American culture and another shared her learning experience of having her credit card stolen in Rome.

No matter the circumstance, all the girls said they learned and grew from their experiences. However, they still realize the troubles of re-adjusting.

Maggie LeMay, a junior returnee from Rome said returning is almost like going to college for the first time all over again.

“I feel like I’ve had a third freshman year; things have changed,” LeMay said.

Saint Mary’s senior and returnee from South Africa, Karolyn Wojtowicz said although readjusting is hard, it is still easy to see the benefits of studying in a different country.

“I was the only one of my circle of friends who studied abroad. Even though I spent nine months away from my Saint Mary’s friends, it was still nice to see that we all still get together after study abroad.”

Wojtowicz also said how she had changed.

“Study abroad does make you more independent,” Wojtowicz said. “I would highly suggest it to anyone contemplating a study abroad program. You create your own world and gain an idea of life outside of Saint Mary’s. If I can survive South Africa, I can survive any city.”

Numerous study abroad programs were represented at the event, including programs located in China, Rome, Ireland, South Africa and Austria.