By Kaitlyn Nolan, API Grenoble Peer Mentor
I arrived back in the States on May 28th and was surprised at how familiar everything seemed. Logan International Airport in Boston was just how I left it five months prior. I was greeted by my mom, youngest brother, and best friend and the first thing we did was go to the Dunkin Donuts that is located in the arrivals terminal (we New Englanders have a deep loyalty and I needed my fix after so long). It seemed as if I would acclimate to American life quite quickly as I rode down the familiar roads of I-90 back to Connecticut.
But as I would quickly realize, re-entry is a difficult process. There were a plethora things I had to get used to: American food (which didn’t go over quite well for the first few weeks), communicating in English (my speaking and grammar skills took a serious hit after living in France), and the general American pace of life. I was caught off guard in regards to my packed schedule, and half worried about how quickly I acclimated to having zero free time. Even though I thought I had become a cultural genius after being in Europe in five months, it seems that being American is simply innate.
There was a point over my summer break that I decided I was “re-entryized”. I had been home for a sufficient period of time, I was used to all the weird changes in my hometown, and had a solid schedule in place. I was looking forward to the next big development in my life: senior year. When it was getting close to the end of my study abroad experience, the prospect of my senior year was the only thing that made me partially excited to return home. I’m in love with my college and I figured everything would go as it usually does.
However, I was wrong. While Stonehill had not changed significantly, I did. I have had the incredible opportunity to go out into the world and see what it has to offer. While attending to school in France, I had a college experience that is the polar opposite of mine here. I had a fifteen minute commute via public transport, my classes were in French, and my electives were in a lecture hall with over 150 people. At Stonehill, I live on campus with my friends, speak English in my classes, and the biggest class I have ever had was 35 students. Besides my French grammar class, all my courses in Grenoble were lecture based. Here, Stonehill prides itself on class discussions.
Socially, I’m walking the fine line of sharing my study abroad experience and being the obnoxious kid that pretends she’s from France (“Est-ce que tu veux étudier avec moi?”). Out of mere habit, I say a few common French phrases which usually earns me an eye roll or a look of confusion. Another bizarre phenomenon is that move-in day was the first time I had seen some of my friends in 9+ months. I figured our friendships would pick up right where we left them, but for some friends, it’s as if we’re getting to know each other all over again. And for the friends I left behind at Stonehill, I missed a chunk of their lives. One of my roommates managed to start a relationship right after I left and it ended the week before I moved back. It’s a weird feeling knowing that I missed out on something so significant in her life.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Stonehill. I’ve always enjoyed my college experience and I will continue to do so. But I’m experiencing that rollercoaster ride that’s associated with the study abroad experience. There are so many things to acclimate to. I lived with a host family in France and then at home with my biological family over the summer. Now, I’m living with seven of my friends in an apartment-style suite. I was honestly taken aback when I realized my classes would be in English and I had actual assignments that were due. As a senior, I’ve been bombarded with papers, presentations, and exams for the upcoming semester. In France, my final exams were my only grades. Along with my coursework, I have a part-time job, volunteer, and dance. While I’ve always had this routine, I haven’t been in it since last December.
As much as I love Stonehill, I desperately miss France. Luckily, I had enough foresight to sign up for a French Culture and Civilization course. It’s entirely in French and on the first day, I felt like I had come home. I’m eager to do my class readings and even more excited to participate in class. I also decided to check out the upcoming French Club meeting (to be honest, I didn’t even know we had a French Club). Additionally, I have a couple of Grenoble friends here on campus, and in Boston, so I have that built-in support system to lean on when I’m feeling homesick for France.
I suppose returning to school after such a long period away is another lesson from study abroad. I keep thinking my experience was limited to January through May, but each transition afterwards is related to my time in France. I don’t think the re-entry process ever ends and I suppose that’s something I can accept. For me, it’s a constant reminder that I had an amazing experience and it will continue to have a profound impact on me.