“Nervous?” My mom asked as we drove the final stretch of our nine-hour drive from Alexandria, Virginia, to Canton.
“A bit,” I mumbled.
I just returned from my first semester freshman year abroad in London, UK before Christmas, a part of the London FYP, and was moving in to campus for the first time on a quite bitterly cold January morning. I could count the amount of people I knew before moving to campus on two hands: the seven-other first-year students in the London FYP and our CA who was abroad with us, and one senior, whose mom was best friends with my mom when they were in Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority together here over 30 years ago.
We arrived with the fellow transfer students the weekend prior to classes starting for a brief orientation. This was a great way to meet the other students who were in the same situation as you and could make friendships easily. The trick to adjusting to campus for the first time, especially as a first-year, after been abroad is to get involved right from the start in as many clubs, activities, and other groups as possible to meet as many people as possible. I’m not going to lie, it was hard. However, it paid off, and made choosing to go to London 100% worth it.
The first week of classes flew by as I played catch up on all things St. Lawrence. There was the bi-annual Student Organization Fair the second week back, to meet and sign up for all the student clubs on campus. It was a screaming array of brightly painted signs and student clubs pitching you on why you should join. I stopped and signed up for Model UN, thinking I had done it briefly in high school and could be interesting to try again in college. It actually became academically useful as well when I had to write weekly journals on a “politically active organization on campus” for my Intro to American Politics course. I also wandered over to the SLU PAC (Performing Arts Committee) table, and as I talked with the represented students, I found out that one of them did the London FYP two years prior to me. I saw how well-adjusted and at home she felt and immediately knew that everything would be okay.
Fast forward two and a half years, I returned to campus senior fall from another semester abroad, but this time from Copenhagen in my junior spring. It was infinitely much easier to get readjusted to campus life. This time it wasn’t so much about joining as many groups or meeting as many people as possible, but to find your old habits and hang out with your friends who you missed while abroad, while keeping up with the other St. Lawrence students you spent time with abroad. One of the key insights, no matter where or when you go abroad, is to keep those friendships alive since they are the only ones that experienced the same thing you did, or find other people that went to the same place. This way you all can geek-out on all things Copenhagen, London, Kenya, Thailand, France, New Zealand, etc. One way I got back into the swing of things on campus was to promote the SLU Sailing Club I started my sophomore year. Twice a week in the fall and weather permitting in the spring, I led a group of students to the Brockville Yacht Club in Brockville, Ontario, to sail and race with the members of the club, ranging from small dinghies to crewing on larger keelboats.
No matter if it’s your first semester or your sixth semester, returning from abroad provides challenges to adjusting back to campus life. However, it is important to stay involved and rely on your friends for support. (And don’t forget to stop back into the CIIS Office to talk with the study abroad counselors; they love hearing about your experiences.)