Arts & Culture / Mosaic / January 18, 2012

Coming home a challenge

Every term, students returning to campus after studying abroad feel the effects of coming home to a place that no longer seems as normal. Knox’s study abroad program allows students to travel to places as varied as Denmark, India, Spain, the United Kingdom and Mali. The list goes on.
Most students do their best to prepare themselves for the shock of going to a completely unfamiliar place, but students are also warned about the effects of returning home.
“I didn’t think it would be this uncomfortable to be back,” junior Emily Weimer said. Weimer studied in Denmark fall term, focusing on sustainability in Europe, and returned home on Dec. 18.
When asked what it was like to be back, Weimer said, “Loud.” She said the Galesburg trains are much louder than the electric trains running all over Europe.
However, the biggest shock upon returning home, Weimer felt, was the people.
“Danes don’t really do small talk,” Weimer said.
Senior Ya-Lin Lu, who studied medical biotechnology and drug development in Denmark, agreed about the distance Danes seem to have towards strangers. She attributed this partially to cities versus small towns.
“I’m actually from Taiwan, but I lived in Thailand; to some extent it felt similar to that,” Lu said.
Lu said the people in Denmark are “like a half empty ketchup bottle,” repeating an analogy she heard during her orientation. On the trains or the street, people keep their distance, keeping personal boundaries. But once they get to know you, they become completely open, spilling out their stories like the contents of a ketchup bottle.
Junior Alison Gaines, who studied music in Mali this past term, experienced quite the opposite effect.
“I would say ‘Good morning’ to everyone on the bus,” Gaines said. “No one is in a hurry there, ever … No one’s ever like, ‘Sorry, I don’t have time.’”
But Gaines actually found readjusting to life back home easier than adjusting to life in Mali.
“We were warned,” Gaines said about the reverse culture shock she might experience, “but it was harder there than to come back.”
When she came home it was returning to the familiar, and she “did not have to readjust to basic ways of life.”
What Gaines has found more difficult is readjusting to a regulated school structure.
“Coming from home to school is a cultural change in itself,” Gaines said, elaborating that her music lessons in Mali were more informal and that she has had to retrain herself to think in controlled classroom schedules.
Some students, like Weimer, plan to go back to the countries they visited. Weimer has kept in contact with her homestay family, and is working out a time of year when they can come here to visit her.
But one thing all the students felt was that coming back to Knox was a way of coming home.
“It feels like home here,” Lu said.

Elizabeth Schult

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