I have now been home for about five days, and it has definitely been a strange five days. One of the most shocking things that I found when I first got home was how completely exhausted I was. I knew that jetlag would hit, but for some reason I did not realize it would be this bad. I found myself falling asleep on the couch at 8:00 pm! I think that besides the jet-lag, this was from a semester of constantly being on the go and doing so many things. Looking back on my experience, there was not much time for rest. Slimbach discusses how to deal with this in his last chapter, in the section titled, “I Didn’t Expect That.” He says to try not to create a hectic schedule and to also recognize the importance for alone time and reflection (212). I like that Slimbach makes a point of personal reflection during this time, as it is important to continue to reflect on our feelings as we reincorporate into our home cultures. Another thing that has been difficult is trying to find the balance between the bitter and the sweet. Part of me is overjoyed to be back here with family and friends, but the other part would hop on a plane back to Firenze tomorrow. This is the struggle of the post-sojourn. It is a state of limbo, a position of trying to decide which culture to identify with and how to incorporate new ideas and lessons into everyday life. However, after reading Slimbach’s last chapter, I realized that this is the beauty of my situation. He says, “Our challenge, as integrative returnees, is to think and act in ways that enrich and enlighten both others and ourselves. Not only must we be able to alternate between cultural frames of reference; we must also learn to appropriately apply new values to novel situations” (220). It is important that I do not bottle up all that I have come to learn, but that I find a way to integrate my global community identity with my local community identity. The journey did not end when I got back here on Saturday, but now I am on a never-ending journey of life-long learning and discovery.
When I shared my reincorporation letter, I did it with my family at dinner. The quote that I chose to share with them was, “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land” (G.K. Chesterson). I shared this with them to explain that coming back to America will be strange for me, and that it will be a reverse culture shock. I wanted them to understand that I will view my home country and community through a new lens. My family and my friends have both been very supportive of my experience. My parents especially have recognized how I have changed and blossomed during my four months away. They have listened to my stories and have tried to understand my new views. Their validation has definitely helped make the transition easier. It helps to have people who want to hear about my experience and who affirm the changes that have occurred.
Slimbach offered multiple ways to carry on the gems that we found while studying abroad. One way that I definitely plan on carrying these gems forward is by getting more involved back at Quinnipiac. I hope to be able to talk to students who are considering studying abroad and share my experience with them to help them understand why it is so important. Also, I plan on living more sustainably. After living in Italy, I realized how little other people waste, especially in terms of foodand electricity. They do not use cars as much, they shop from local markets only when they need food and they don’t use dryers, or air conditioning at certain times of the year. I hope to be able to incorporate some of these things into my life here so that I can do my part to make this Earth viable for years to come.
One habit that I will have to get rid of at this time is the act of simply going along with things. I think that before studying abroad, I forgot to ask questions and to ask “Why?” Instead, I simply accepted things for how they were. I know that now I will begin to question whether things are fair, good for everyone, and how they can be done better.
A quote that represents my feelings right now is, “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living” –Miriam Beard. After living abroad for four months, I have realized that travel for education goes beyond just seeing cool things and having fun. It is about becoming a well-rounded citizen of the world. It is about learning to make your own decisions, and discovering new ways of thinking. Travel for education is about change.