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Countries to Cliffs: Loma Life After Studying Abroad

Libby Storm, a Study Abroad Ambassador, at work in the Study Abroad Office. She is one of several Study Abroad Ambassadors who has studied abroad before and has reintegrated into the Loma campus. Photo Credit to Clara Wilks.

Scotland. The Netherlands. Italy. Spain. Ecuador. Greece. These are just a few of the countries where approximately 50 Point Loma Nazarene University students lived and studied last fall. Now that they’ve returned, those same students have to figure out their new normal as they adjust back to life on PLNU’s campus.

For Joella Wu-Cardona, a third-year computer science major who studied in Amsterdam last fall with the CEA CAPA program, her class sizes were much larger than PLNU’s average, sometimes up to 300 students. Wu-Cardona lamented that she did not get to know any of her professors to the same degree as she does at PLNU.

A group of 11 students were a part of the Experience Scotland program last fall. Second-year political science major Colin Sekerka was among those students. He said a unique aspect of that experience, as compared to his time at PLNU, was that the professors would eat meals in the same room as the students, “[reinforcing] interpersonal relationships with professors.” 

Third-year global business major Natalie Landes was also part of the Experience Scotland program and talked about a similar experience as Sekerka.

“What’s different being back here is everyone’s on their own schedule,” Landes said. 

While in Scotland, Landes mentioned that there was always someone to do things with, but since returning, she has realized independence is a gift.     

Students had varying answers when asked how it is to be back on campus after almost eight months away. However, a general consensus was that while abroad, they relied on public transportation, which has made having a car again take some getting used to. 

Wu-Cardona said, “For the most part, it was not as hard to transition back as I thought it would be.” She said her time abroad “feels like a dream,” and she has mostly returned to her routine.

Rob Gailey, professor of business and director of the Center for International Development, taught three of the four modules in the Experience Scotland program last semester. Gailey said that teaching in Scotland was set up very differently than how he normally teaches the courses, so it required some flexibility. Similarly, coming back and teaching on PLNU’s campus again has also required flexibility.

Gailey said two of his classes this semester had either more or fewer students than usual, affecting the structure of both classes significantly. “My International Business class normally has 30 students … so we do country presentations, and there are 30 country presentations … I come here, and … there are 6 students in that [class],” said Gailey.

The class required some creative reworking on Gailey’s part.

Getting reintegrated into the community has not been smooth sailing for everyone. Sekerka said he expected previous on-campus job opportunities to remain available upon returning this semester. However, he quickly discovered that was not the case, leading him to look for new jobs.

Wu-Cardona also was not able to return to her on-campus job.

Fourth-year graphic design major Libby Storm, a study abroad ambassador who spent time in four different countries as part of the summer 2022 Euro-Term, recalled her techniques for readjusting to different countries and said she likes to call people up when she misses them. 

Now spending her days in San Diego again, Storm enjoys hosting the Welcome Back Events for the Study Abroad Office and hearing the returners’ stories. 

Wu-Cardona suggests incorporating habits from time abroad. For example, if students could walk places abroad, they could find a space for intentional walks in San Diego. 

In a similar vein, Brian Becker, director of International Ministries and Study Abroad, has a term that he uses called “returnability.” He defines this as “do[ing] the work of returning to what you love and value.” While it may not be easy, according to Becker, putting the work in for returnability “builds skills and maturity that could transform someone’s life.”

All three students described their experiences abroad as life-changing. 

“I realized how small the world is,” said Sekerka. “Seeing so much and experiencing different cultures gives you a wider understanding that you’re not alone in [life], but you’re also just one person.”    

Becker had a reminder to those who have come back after studying abroad. 

“If someone is struggling with reintegration after a semester abroad, we’d hope that they seek support in the Wellness Center, from [the] Study Abroad Office and from the trusted community/family in their life,” said Becker.