Many would argue that it is difficult leaving home, venturing off into the uncomfortable and frightening unknown. After my time abroad, I would have to disagree; returning home to the known, habitual, and normal lifestyle is much more difficult and fearsome. After separating from my home in Morristown, New Jersey, I was sure that by the time December came I would be jumping with joy as the date for my return quickly approached me. Much to my surprise, the reality was considerably more complicated, as the distress of separating from my new home in Rome, Italy, now unexpectedly snuck up on me. Reincorporation was now in my vision, as I looked forward to my next and final step in my life changing transition.
The process of reincorporation was comprised of such vast emotions, that I still feel as though I am dealing with the departure and return from overseas. Richard Slimbach explains, “Coming home can actually take as much getting used to as going abroad ever did, and maybe more. Whereas we anticipate having to adapt ourselves to differences abroad, we don’t expect the same as we set foot back on native soil” (2010. p, 204). For me, this was the most eccentric part of my rites of passage; returning home to a town that seems as though it has remained untouched, paused and only just now was the play button triggered. I spent much time asking myself the question, isn’t this a good thing? The fact that I haven’t missed much and hardly anything has changed means that I can simply jump right back to how things were, right? The answer to my question was what was especially nerve-racking, being that the conclusion was up to my discretion; I could return to my old town and my old life as if I never left, or, I could recognize the experiences and changes I have obtained and find a new place in my old home, one in which is appropriate for my new identity. I proudly selected the latter option, hoping that my community would celebrate my determination, rather than excluding me. In addition to my rather contemplative struggle with my new identity in my old environment, I also encountered innumerable conventional obstacles. These include comparing local cuisine to the distinguished foreign gourmet, becoming saddened by the absence of historical beauties in my surroundings, acting critical towards the fast-pace lifestyle in “corporate America”, and feeling desolate as my calendar increasingly opened up with unwanted “free-time”. Despite these challenges that I have crossed while reintegrating with my home community, I understand that this is all normal. I am indeed a liminal being yet again, finding my way through this confusing, as well as, worthwhile threshold.
While preparing my reincorporation letter, I only found it right to follow up with the individual with whom I had given a separation letter to four months prior—my boyfriend Danny. Although it would seem appropriate to give the letter to Danny once I returned home, I wanted to wait a couple days, allowing him to have his own time to interpret the experience in which I have just returned from. When at my house on my fifth day home, I decided that it was the right time to share with Danny the independence I’ve gained, the sights I’ve seen, the friends I’ve made, the knowledge I’ve acquired, the obstacles I’ve overcome, and most importantly, how this all forever changed me. Surely, I was at first worried to share these deep personal and reflective thoughts with Danny, nervous that he would perceive the changed me as a negative outcome from my time abroad. In order to help convey the opportunities a healthy reincorporation will allow me during this experience, I shared the renowned quote by Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. This quote truly highlights the positivity involved in change. Due to the fact that my new role as a responsible citizen of the global community was such an impactful component of my time abroad, I can now acknowledge the fact that the world cannot change without the change in mankind. It was clear that after I shared the letter, I had nothing to worry about. Danny was overjoyed to see that the four months we spent long-distance was for a greater cause than simply taking photographs and partying. Danny was proud of my decisions and actions while abroad, aware of the mindful traveling I so carefully practiced. I am so appreciative and thankful for the endless support that Danny has given me throughout this transition. It was with Danny’s acceptance of the changed person I have become, that I truly felt as though my life transition abroad was both successful and complete.
At the present moment, I feel fulfilled and humbled by the learning experiences I have accumulated, both in and out of the classroom, while living in Rome, Italy. However, now is not a time to get comfortable while reminiscing on stories and photographs, but a time to take action, “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” (2010. p, 220). One way in which I intend to carry forward the ”gems” I have collected on my Education Abroad experience is through the concept of “discover the joy of less”. Often times, it is easy to take the little things for granted. While living in Italy, I had to be conscious of the time I spent in the shower, as hot water quickly ran out. I had to go to sleep in heavy clothing, as heating was only allowed at certain times of the day. I had to wait several days for my laundry to dry, sometimes using a hair dryer to speed the process, as clothing dryers are not a commodity. I had to spend the time to hand-wash all dishes, as dishwashers are not a typical household product. Evidently, it is clear that daily life-style choices are made with much more vigilance overseas. Americans often feel far too powerful; neglecting to realize the harm that ones decision can have on others and the earth. Slimbach states, “It turns out that one of the best things the well off can do to practice meaningful solidarity with the working poor is to live simply and share resources—to use no more than our ‘fair share’ of the earth’s nonrenewable resources” (2010. p, 225). This carelessness stops here for me, as I hope to continue the practices I was forced to follow while abroad, now maintained by choice. Furthermore, another “gem” I wish to carry forward is through the notion to “help internationalize your campus”. College students are such valuable demographics in our global community, with young and ambitious minds awaiting his or her entry into the professional working community. With this, I hope to inspire students at Quinnipiac University, sharing the news of the global community in which demands and desires their attention and collaboration. Through these two simple ways I can carry the “gems” I have collected forward, I am confident that I will never lose what I have gained during my Education Abroad experience.
While it may seem as though I am prepared to take the necessary steps in order to carry my experience forward, it is true when they say that it is much easier said than done. Regardless of the obvious change in habit and character imperative to the effective continuity of my new identity, I am adamant about never giving up. Being that these travelogues were so helpful in reminding me of the greater meaning of my experience abroad, perhaps I could continue to set time aside to proceed with this exercise. By allowing occasions for purposeful reflective thought, I am positive that I can manage resisting the reemergence of habits, now labeled as negative influences on my global community.
Four months later, my life transition has reached its last step. As Andre Gide once said, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore”. This is the message in which I ultimately hope to spread to anyone who wishes to listen; a world of opportunity anticipates your arrival, once you let go of the comfort that penetrates behind you. I spent three months prior to my departure anxious, worried, and doubtful. I had cold feet, convinced that I was making the wrong decision and far too close to rejecting a life-changing experience. Luckily, with the incalculable support from friends and family, I gained the courage to turn my head and never look back. Despite the immense difficulty I had separating from all that was known, I am forever thankful that I eventually was able to discover wondrous new oceans that I now call my home.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning (Stylus Publishing, LLC., 2010).