A Reflection on the Study Abroad Retreat

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From left to right: Leah Ruggiere, Maria Kyriakakos, Isabella Favazza, Kathryn Vajda, Rosie David, Mandile Mpofu, Brianka Enck. Photo Credit: Kate Longabaugh

At 9:30 am on August 25, the first Saturday within the Fall 2018 semester, a handful of returning students sit on the old couches of Buchner Hall. Fruit, cereal, apple juice, and tea are offered on a nearby counter for breakfast. There’s some slow chatter as others trickle in from their dorms, until our group is at around 7 people, not including the leaders of the retreat, Alum Meg John (’18) and Senior Kate Longabaugh (‘19). Meg eases the group into the first activity, a deep discussion on our experiences abroad. All of these students have gathered for one particular reason, including myself—we are all students who have recently returned from study abroad.

The Study Abroad Retreat, started last year by Alums Anna Young (‘18) and Meg John (‘18), was created as a space for students returning from study abroad to reflect on their experiences. Additionally, the retreat provides some guidance navigating the transition back into life at Goucher. Reflection primarily took place through activities like the one introduced above. Small, open-ended questions acted as prompts throughout, and each person built off of the prompt and shared experiences that are often not discussed or addressed when asked the infamous question, “so how was study abroad?” The retreat itself actively pushes against this question. As many noted during this discussion, it’s hard to answer such a broad question about such a long and complex time in one’s life. Small group discussions, which addressed both the good, the bad, and the neutral, were supportive and empathetic in a way that echoed throughout other aspects of the retreat. Peer listeners were also invited for an hour to allow those who had studied abroad to have a strictly confidential space about potential problems they experienced either abroad or upon returning to Goucher.

Outside of group discussion, people were given the opportunity to reflect on and explore their study abroad experience through small art projects and writing. A travel writing workshop led by Professor Lana Oweidat, Director of the Writing Center and professor of writing, prompted students to reflect critically on their time abroad, taking into account the ethical dilemma of writing about a culture that is not your own.

After Professor Oweidat addressed how to write about one’s experience, a “Resource Hour” was held at the end of the retreat to provide information about various clubs and offices on campus that can help students in their transition. Representatives from The Quindecim, Storymapping, Re:Home, and Title IX were present to share the services and opportunities they can offer to students returning from study abroad. The Quindecim and Storymapping provide a space for students to actively share their experience. Students can share their study abroad narratives with the Q through writing and images. Storymapping Club, run by Clara Colton Symmes and advised by Professor Evan Daley,  provides students the opportunity to share their narrative using maps, images, videos, and writing online. Storymapping Club is in the process of creating a map connecting various Goucher study abroad stories titled “Gophers Around the World: Megamap.” Kalee LaPointe of Re:Home informed students about the revitalized club, which primarily acts as a long-term support group for students to openly talk about and reflect on their experiences abroad.

While reflection on one’s own study abroad experience is a huge part of the retreat, it also informs returning students about changes on campus. Lindsey Johnson from the Community Based Learning Center and Aisha Rivers of the Office of Student Engagement spoke with students for an hour regarding the many changes to Goucher since the spring semester. Title IX in particular shared information on their upcoming forum regarding abroad and sexual assault, communicating to those at the retreat that the forum would be student led, confidential, and open to all.

The student run event spanned from Friday Night to Late Saturday Afternoon, and was funded through OIS. Those who attended the retreat reflected positively on the experience, especially given that the nature of this event was student run and student focused. This allowed for more freedom of expression for many of them, including providing some students with the ability to discuss the more negative aspects of their programs. This included both racism and sexism that they experienced in their host countries, which they were unprepared for. The calm flexibility of the program added to its success, particularly because returning students were better able to communicate and process through their study abroad experience as whole, but not entirely all at once.

If you are interested in sharing your study abroad story with others, feel free to contact us at quin@mail.goucher.edu or join Story-mapping Club. Story-mapping meets Mondays from 2pm-4pm near the laptop kiosk in the Ath.

If you are looking for support as you transition back from study abroad, reach out to ACE, the Counseling Center, Peer Listeners, or Re:Home.

If you are simply looking to reflect on, discuss, or share your study abroad experience, reach out to Peer Listeners or Re:Home. Re:Home meets on Tuesdays from 7pm-8pm in the Chapel Undercroft.

Katie Monthie ’19 is a senior from Columbia, MD majoring in Psychology and English. In the future, Katie would like to pursue a career in psychology, ideally becoming teaching and researching how people connect to narratives. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to the same three podcasts, obsessing over Shakespeare, and writing until her hand aches.

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