Galesburg is a cold place to return to after four months in the Mediterranean. The bare trees and moonscapes of ice intimidate one now used to palm trees, where the bad weather is just some rain. It’s amazing how quickly you can forget how to order food in a restaurant or cross the street. Once you’re back at Knox, it begins to sink in just how different things are; your friends are living in different places, and they already have a set social pattern, a pattern that does not necessarily include you. This is a little bit of what it’s like returning from abroad. But at the same time, it’s not entirely bad. There’s a new sense of camaraderie between you and your classmates who were also abroad. You compare notes on how they write dates wherever you were and about foreigners’ wacky ideas about postage. Beyond that, there is the knowledge that you have just spent the last four months living somewhere completely different from anywhere else you’ve lived before.
I’m one of those people. I spent last term in Rome, Italy, and the experience was unbelievable. One cannot account for the spectacular feeling of awe when you enter Saint Peter’s Basilica for the first time and glimpse the vaulted ceiling, enormous beyond comprehension. It towers over the delicate beauty of the Pieta, or the sublimity of a piazza designed by Michelangelo overlooking the decaying remains of the ancient forum. Speaking for myself, I gained a whole new respect for American efficiency and pop music more recent than The Village People.
Of course studying abroad is not all about seeing architectural glory and experiencing the oddities of a culture utterly different from that within which you grew up, it’s also about studying, right? The fact of the matter is, the lessons that stuck with me most closely, rather than coming from a textbook were those that I learned just walking down a street – learning that you need a ticket with a number to buy bread, that stylish jackets can sometimes, god forbid, be made out of shiny black plastic, and that a bus will never be on time when you need it. The real lessons of studying abroad come from having a lunchtime conversation with a Bavarian solar engineer about French existential philosophers, contemplating the process of extracting salt using windmills older than our country, and climbing with the crowds of pilgrims towards Saint Francis’ tomb on his feast day.
I’m sure that everyone who traveled abroad last term has their own stories to tell about traveling abroad and about returning to the United States with a changed (or perhaps unchanged) perspective. We at TKS would like to hear your stories about studying abroad. If you have a story that you’d like to tell, or a reflection that you would like to make, contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org