The third annual re-entry conference was held on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at Augsburg College. This event brought together resources from across Minnesota to provide support to recently returned study abroad students. One-hundred seven students attended, representing 20 institutions. These students studied abroad in more than forty countries. Twenty-two volunteers from across the midwest helped to make this day a reality.
The conference is designed to allow students an opportunity to reflect on their international experiences and share their adventures with other students from around the world.
Dr. Orv Gingerich, Associate Dean of International Programs and the Director of the Center for Global Education at Augsburg College gave the opening comments and welcomed everyone to campus.
Keynote speaker, Jenn Bottke, Gustavus alum, nurse and author shared her insights on re-entry following two trips to India. Jenn was a typical college student in 2001, floating through her freshman year at Gustavus Adolphus College when study abroad found her. She spent a semester in India, and returned home with a new outlook on life. Jenn finished her degree in Nursing, and is working as a Registered Nurse in a small community hospital. While on bed rest with her second pregnancy, Jenn was so bored that she decided to write her study abroad adventure into a book, entitled "Barefoot in the Kitchen". It was published last year. Below are several excerpts from her discourse.
We traveled throughout India, staying with non-profit organizations and living completely immersed in the culture. My time in India completely changed the course of my life. My time in India was the most precious gift to me, and truly, it was a gift, in the beginning, whose value I drastically underestimated.
At the beginning of my experience, I was under the impression that when I returned home, everything would be the same, familiar people, food, places…then I had the realization that, yes, the world was going on without me. Life back in Minnesota did not stop when the wheels of my plane left the runway.
Each one of us has lived something very different, even if our travel happened in a group like mine did, the memories that we take out of our time abroad are individual. That is a blessing, we have something special, that no one else has. But it’s also a curse because no one else can ever fully understand what we experienced. It was just as uncomfortable for me to come home as it was for me to leave. It is hard, and stressful, and hugely underrated to begin the work of translating your journey into something that is useful to you know. It’s not easy, it’s not always fun, and it can continue for a long time.
So, I have two pieces of advice to you to help you transform your experience into something meaningful and useful in your life back here at home...
- Find an audience to share your experience with. It truly doesn’t matter who or what your audience is, but just find an audience who will listen.
My second piece of advice is not even truly from me, I can’t take credit for it, but it is the most valuable advice I received when coming home. This advice comes from my faculty director, Professor Doug Huff. He told me that I had a three sentence window to capture someone’s attention and get them curious about study abroad. He said, after three sentences, the eyes begin to glaze over and you’ve lost the chance to make an impact…so, his advice, come up with a shocking, thrilling, awe-inspiring three sentences so that your friend is immediately hooked and is begging for more information. Then, you can truly share your experience.
If you would like to read about my experience in India, and coming home, my book "Barefoot in the Kitchen" is available online at either Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I was very lucky to have some pretty amazing adventures and part of my Re-entry processing was to write them all down.
A student panelfollowed with comments from Jennifer Decker, a University of Minnesota student, who studied abroad in Germany and Mexico; and Janae Walton-Green, a Carleton College student who studied in Madrid, Rome and Prague. They addressed the topic of study abroad as a privilege and the challenge it is to become a Global Citizen. Small groups followed with discussion and debate from conference participants.