Pomona students reflect on life after study abroad

Returning to the ‘Pomona Bubble’ has its ups and downs

Anyone who’s ever left campus on a study abroad trip knows that leaving the country for a semester — or even a few weeks — is one of the most exciting things you can do in your college career. But what happens when you come back? I spoke to a number of Pomona students who went away to learn about the readjustment period, their favorite memories and what they want to do next.

Memories of Cuba

I spent last semester studying abroad in Havana, Cuba. Mementos of my time there dot my dorm room this year including posters of the films I enjoyed in my class at the Fundación del Nuevo Cine Latino-Americano (FNCL), a tiny replica of the street sign that marked the corner of Linia y E where my apartment building sat and a copy of the Cuban newspaper La Juventud Rebelde that discusses Obama’s visit to the island towards the end of March earlier this year. Further evidence blasts through my speakers: I often play Habana de Primera, the popular salsa music group in Havana, and practice salsa in my room.

A bookshelf in my room decorated with Cuban postcards, the street sign replica, and a small drum keychain painted like the flag. An English version of "Memorias de Subdesarollo" sits at the end.

A bookshelf in my room decorated with Cuban postcards, the street sign replica, and a small drum keychain painted like the flag. An English version of ‘Memorias de Subdesarollo’ sits at the end.

Change was everywhere

Visually, mentally and emotionally, my life in Cuba was a huge change from my “normal” one at school. For example, I got eight or more hours of sleep most nights, the workload was less stressful, I commuted to the different campuses where I took classes and the teaching styles were more lecture-based.

El Malecon

The roof of our apartment

Simply living and existing had a different edge to it as well. I had time to relax and to explore the exciting new space that I inhabited. I went out dancing, and I was able to witness another beautiful culture and a people the African diaspora has shaped, an experience that was important to me as a black woman and foreign at my school in Southern California and at home in Seattle.

Communication took on a whole new meaning for me in Cuba, too. On one hand, I developed my ability to speak in Spanish and to understand the Cuban accent. On the other, I wasn’t able to talk, email, or text people from home as easily, due to international data fees and access to Wi-Fi that required prepaid cards and travel to internet parks.

Relaxing on Las Escalinatas at the University of Havana

Relaxing on Las Escalinatas at the University of Havana

Different journeys, same destination

I spoke to some friends of mine who also spent semesters abroad last year. We discussed how, upon returning to college, and to the United States for that matter, there were similar aspects of our time abroad that we missed and appreciated, and similar aspects that we missed about our school while we were away.

Most of us expressed a thankfulness for the opportunity to be independent in ways abroad that we don’t experience at school. Yerika Reyes and Esther Cheung, who traveled to Germany in the Fall of 2015, both talked about enjoying living in apartments with other German students, cooking most of their meals and really getting to take time to savor the breaks from homework or class to relax, travel and explore other major cities in Europe.

Additionally, we all spoke about how relieving it felt to sleep adequately and be much less stressed. Yerika said this about the significance of her time in Germany: “I didn’t even realize how stressed I am at school until I was abroad. We’re expected to do so much at Pomona, if not by the institution than by our social culture. Our assignments and projects, internships, school programs or clubs. Especially if we want to see change at Pomona, the students have to be super engaged. All of these things we are expected to do to be a successful student usually get in the way of my sleep, and I didn’t even realize how important it is for my clarity until I was abroad.”

Yerika and a friend in Freiburg, Germany

Yerika and a friend in Strasbourg, France

Returning to ‘The Bubble’

Many other students who traveled to Morocco, Thailand, etc. shared our thoughts about what it is like to be back on Pomona’s campus. Study abroad opened our eyes to the “real world” in ways Pomona’s bubble doesn’t allow or simply made us realize what it means to live without academic stress. In other ways, we have come to appreciate Pomona more because of the semesters we spent off campus.

Esther expressed her changed appreciation for sleep abroad, but also for Pomona’s class sizes, unique resources, critical discussions, and all of the different types of relationships she has on campus. Despite the “bubble” nature of our campus, in our conversations there has been a shared appreciation for the type of critical and discussion based environment fostered in most of our classes and the environment this creates outside of the classroom. Also, being able to roll out of bed and be in class in 10 minutes is something we all love, among other privileges we have going to a small private college.

Overall, we didn’t expect to discover things about our school that we took for granted or really appreciate while abroad. As all of us proceed with our last year, memories of abroad remind us of these likes and dislikes, and will definitely influence how we live our lives on this campus and in the world moving forward.

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