Photo courtesy Lindsay Wilson, '18.

Students find study abroad is not easy come, easy go

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After adjusting to a new life in a different country, students who were abroad for the fall semester and have returned to campus are tasked with readjusting to life in the United States and life at Lehigh.

Anna Hollander, ’18, studied abroad in Madrid last fall, and found her semester to be about traveling, trying new things and learning through experience. At Lehigh, Hollander said it’s easy to focus solely on studies rather than gaining new experiences. She said there’s so much to do in a big cosmopolitan, capital city, as opposed to the Lehigh bubble where everything is about on-campus life.

Erin Akins, ’18, a bioengineering student who also studied abroad in Madrid, said readjusting to life at Lehigh made her realize that campus is her home, rather than a place she only takes classes. She missed campus life because while abroad she didn’t have the opportunity to participate in certain activities or meet up with friends in a familiar setting.

“Being abroad helped me realize that I love the fact that everyone lives on campus and that people are involved,” Akins said.

Both Akins and Hollander lived with host families in Madrid, which gave them the opportunity to immerse themselves in Spanish culture. Akins’ 45-minute commute from her host home to school everyday allowed her to observe local culture firsthand. She said her time abroad was centered around being independent while learning to live under the rules of the host family.

For Akins, readjusting to life at Lehigh meant going back to the routine of cooperating with a network of students, professors and professionals.

“It’s no longer just me that I need to satisfy, and just me that I need to abide by,” Akins said. “Since I’m involved in things, I have to follow others’ schedules, I can’t just skip meetings.”

Lindsay Wilson, ’18, studied in Copenhagen, Denmark, last fall and said the biggest transition was readjusting to the campus climate.

“The familiar Lehigh drama kind of goes out the window when you are abroad and then smacks you in the face when you come back,” she said.

In Denmark, Wilson said she was surrounded by strangers and now she is somewhat overwhelmed by the number of the familiar faces she sees every day.

“I forgot what it was like to sit in a coffee shop and have 10 people I know walk in,” Wilson said.

Being an American in Europe was especially interesting during the election season. Akins, Wilson and Hollander said Europeans were curious about what was happening in the U.S.

Akins said when others overheard her speak English, they would ask her thoughts on American politics.

Wilson said she sometimes felt like she needed to defend the U.S., and Akins, who does not consider herself political, said she was surprised to see Europeans were, at times, more interested in the election than Americans were.

Each of the students said they experienced reverse culture shock when they came home, which occurs when individuals need to readjust to their native cultures after time abroad. Wilson said the idea of ‘politically correct’ culture, which she has experienced in the U.S., doesn’t exist in Denmark, so she needed to filter herself more when coming home. She said it was especially difficult after the recent election.

Apart from missing Rivalry Week, each of the students said they did not feel left out because they realized this was their only opportunity to study and travel in Europe. Despite dramatic life changes in such a short period of time, all three are excited to get involved in on-campus life again.

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