Study abroad program alleviates struggles of re-immersion

By: Julia Hall – Staff Writer

Navigating a semester abroad has been known to be challenging for students immersing themselves into a new culture and then returning to the UD community. In response, SAIL, Semester Abroad and Intercultural Leadership, is a new program through the UD study abroad office that provides a year of re-immersion support.

Currently, three exchange programs are part of SAIL: Suzhou, China; Maynooth, Ireland; and Madrid, Spain. The program will intertwine a study abroad experience in the fall with a spring housing arrangement with fellow study abroad alumni and an intercultural leadership training and development program upon returning to campus. An additional $3,000 scholarship will be awarded to SAIL participants to help them financially stay afloat.

Karen McBride, director of education abroad and partnerships, explained, “We also wanted to enhance the education abroad reentry experience, as well. When students come back from abroad, there is so much they have gone through—all these transformations culturally, psychologically, personally and what we have seen in the field at large, students have a hard time articulating what happened to them.”

Two graduate assistants for the Human Rights Center, Rachel Bernardo and Adrianne Lewis, both studied abroad in Italy for a year with the Rondine Association as representatives from the University of Dayton. Upon returning to UD, they roomed together and shared the reintegration process as they began their graduate assistantships and classes.

When asked about “culture-shock” in Italy, Bernardo said, “There were some parts that we definitely had to get used to, but that we knew that we had to adapt to it made it so much easier. Plus, we were in a program with other foreign students. My roommate was from Palestine, and the girl right next door to us was from Israel. Her [Lewis’s] roommate was from Dagestan, Russia. We sort of got to work with them to integrate into the Italian culture.”

“For me here, I am very much about structure, being very punctual,” Lewis said. “The Italians do not have that sense. Nothing happens on time, and that was something I had to adjust to. Living in it and having to adjust to it and then having it become your norm while you were there was interesting.”

“Let’s just say going to Italy and dealing with the culture shock there was not bad at all—we expected it,” Bernardo said. “But coming back, we did not expect it to be like that at all.”

Regarding the new SAIL program, Lewis said, “I think that makes a lot of sense because it is hard to relate. If I had to come back and figure everything out all by myself, even though I know people do it all the time, [it] would have been difficult for me. But, to have someone who knew exactly what it was like, to know the strengths and weaknesses of the program, to know exactly what experience I had, was really helpful reintegrating back into what was normal before.”

“We want to help them [students] articulate their experience, elevate their level of general awareness on inter-cultural relationships and activities, cultural competencies, cross-cultural relations, dialogue, and coming off a study abroad experience is a great way to pivot into that,” McBride said.

The goals of SAIL include not only aiding in the readjustment of study abroad alumni to regular student life, but also expanding upon the experiences they have had by engaging in leadership programming. Additionally, the SAIL program aims to increase participation in fall study abroad programs, as, according to McBride, the spring programs are presently three times as popular. Also, the study abroad office aspires to have SAIL become a selling point for potential students.

Lewis and Bernardo both encouraged students to take advantage of opportunities to study abroad.

“I cannot think of any negative aspect of it,” Lewis said. “You get the opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture, you have the opportunity to learn a new language and you will get to experience something other than something that you do everyday that you are so used to that is so socially ingrained. Nothing is better than that …”

“Definitely do it,” Bernardo agreed.

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