My JYP: Living and Learning Community at St. Lawrence
Leaving a country with endless rolling hills sprinkled with sheep, pristine blue water, and sublime snowcapped mountains broke my heart. I studied abroad in New Zealand for about five months, getting to know the kiwi slang, reprogramming my brain to drive on the left side of the road, and hiking more than 177 miles.
Needless to say, when the time came I dragged myself to the airport and shed a few tears as I watched the endless beaches and mountains disappear in the distance. I felt devastated leaving a place I considered my new home.
Coming back to the States is when it really hit hard. I left summer beaches and sunsets at 9:30 p.m. for a dark, rainy winter with five fewer hours of sun. Reverse culture shock was in full effect as I spent most of the next month before school in bed adjusting back to the States. Five months was the perfect amount of time to get comfortable in a new country, and to have it ripped out from under you and flip back to your home country was very frustrating.
I was grieving a way to process all my adventures, my new friends I may never see again, and the new culture I had come to grow and love. Luckily, I had seen an email to apply to the Living and Learning Community (LLC), which was essentially a semester of travel writing and literature course designed for students to reflect on their experiences abroad. The course combines elements of English and Global Studies in which ten students, who all spent their fall semester in different off-campus abroad programs, have an open environment to discuss their experiences and develop their travel writing skills. I was a little hesitant because I had never taken an English course before, but decided it would be beneficial for me to reflect.
Denmark, China, Kenya, France, Italy, NYC, London and New Zealand. My nine new dorm mates and I lived on a floor in Kirk-Douglas Hall, all a little taken back about being back at SLU. After being bombarded by, “Hey! How was abroad?!” 57 times, I craved a way to actually sit down and tell someone about all the life-changing adventures I had. The LLC and my new class provided the perfect outlet for me. I couldn’t help but feel like I went abroad to seven other countries after hearing all my classmates’ experiences too.
After a couple of weeks, I coined the term “JYP”, or Junior-Year Program, a spoof off of the more well known “FYP”, or First-Year Program, in which first-year students all live together and take a course together. Instead of easing the transition from high school to college like the FYP, my JYP eased the transition from another country back to the U.S. and helped me with my reverse culture shock.
The professor for the course, Natalia Singer, provided a sense of comfort by hosting an international dinner at her home. All ten of us brought meals from our host country and talked for hours about all our crazy travel adventures.
Sometimes, our class would meet in our common space in the dorm, a nice perk not having to walk to class. I complemented the windows with a few plants, and soon the common room became the perfect place to host the casual late-night talk, to play games, puzzles, or do work together.
From oral presentations on our host country’s ecological issues, to writing a blog on a major news story in the country, to solidifying travel essays and writing about our homestays, we continued to learn about ourselves and our host country even as we sat in Canton, N.Y. We got to immortalize all of the memories we never wanted to lose.
My JYP gave me a sense of comfort at times when I felt like I was stranded out at sea. I am very grateful for that experience, because without it I would have never met the amazing people who are now my close friends.