The following are some reflections from Spring 2016 student Shaela Tyler, now a senior at William Jessup University.
Anyone who has had a positive experience studying abroad knows that going home can be very painful. When I studied abroad in the Spring of 2016 in Brisbane, Australia, this was actually kind of my goal. I’m not a masochist by any means. When I left, I wanted it to hurt because that meant I had formed relationships that meant something. As we prepared to leave, I realized I had definitely met this goal. Leaving was painful. The gut wrenching sobbing as I climbed the bus to airport painful. I missed my host family, church, uni and fellow Americans in the program. On the return home I expected to hate America and all it represents. I expected my friends and family to not be interested in my stories. I knew that many wouldn’t be able to relate. Even if they tried to relate I thought they still wouldn’t “get it”. There is just something defining about going abroad. The people who stay back at home sometimes don’t grasp the gravity of what you’ve been through. I also didn’t know if I would be able to love or agree with my home university anymore. The Australian Studies Centre (ASC) program tried to prepare us as much as possible. I guess they did a pretty good job because I was never blindsided when I arrived home. None of what I feared came true.
My fellow Americans
I don’t hate America. I recognize the United States as just another broken system. It is a country like others trying to create a “good” life. I may not agree with who they’re trying to create this life for—the rich and elite or the common people. I don’t agree with many of the ways that they go about trying to mold the good life—corruption in politics, consumerism, ect. I also disagree with many American’s definitions of “good”, “fair” and “right”. However, these situations give me cause to stand for what I believe is right. And that stand does not require hatred. Even coming home to the 2016 election I haven’t despised anyone involved. I hate the ideals and beliefs acted out. The violence and bigotry experienced since the election has brought some very dark parts of America to light. The reality is that we aren’t any more enlightened or blessed than many other countries in the world. Knowing this has softened the blow of the election results and underlines the importance of living a humble life dedicated to service.
Is anyone interested?
Another unnecessary worry that I had was that people close to me wouldn’t want to hear about life in Australia. My family and friends were interested. They wanted to know all about the “exotic” place I had lived in. I had countless people ask about my semester. In my fear I had forgotten all about the caring community that I have been blessed with. One difficulty is that sometimes the stories that are important to me aren’t as interesting to others. This was something that I had to adjust to as I told people about the Great Barrier Reef (again). It was frustrating to a point but I came to realize that it’s okay. Not everyone needs to hear about everything that happened. I stick with telling my good friends the small details near and dear to my heart and talk openly with everyone about petting koalas and kangaroos. I still find the phrase, “When I was in Australia…” leaving my mouth far too often but I’m working on that.
Back to school
Going back to school was more difficult than I had thought but it definitely wasn’t something to fear. First of all, the Australian school system does not operate on testing the way that America does. I did not have a single test the semester I was with ASC. I was out of practice and bombed my first test back. On the upside, my critical analyses within essays has been markedly better (thanks, ASC!). The worst of the part of my transition back to school came pretty early. It was the very first Monday night of the semester and I decided to attend Monday night chapel. I sat in the back surrounded by people I didn’t know. That was the moment that I realized I was a stranger to all of the new students and had lost contact with many former friends. The feeling of being an outsider crashed down on me. Because I attend a small Christian Liberal Arts university, this feeling was completely foreign to me. I felt that I had been pushed to the fringes of a campus I had come to call home. I think that every senior preparing to graduate has this feeling at some point. In that situation, I had a choice to make. To connect or to just make it through the next year and graduate. It’s been difficult but the change that I experienced in Australia has allowed for a greater sense of purpose and self-assuredness. I make the effort to connect with and meet people which has eased this sense of loneliness. With intentionality and genuine care comes fruitful friendships that have helped reintegration to my home university.
Place and practice
Related to this sense of purpose and belonging, another result of the trip was finding more of my identity and place in the world. It seems as though the globe has become both larger and more compact simultaneously. My horizons have been broadened and I am aware of the world in a new way. Then sometimes I’m hit with the realization that I now have family on the opposite side of the earth and that makes it feel smaller and more accessible. I find it more automatic to think beyond myself as well. The practices of recycling and using fair trade and sustainable products have become more important and worth the effort. Being involved in politics and making an effort to connect with world news have become second nature. Intentionality with people and staying connected for the purpose of service have been convicting and so life-giving. I learned the importance of these efforts in Brisbane. However, they didn’t become real for me until I came home. They were just “things I did in Australia.” But now they are practices I believe we are called to as Christians. I am called to care for the earth. I am called to think we’ll and to love my neighbor. I am called to live in a way that represents the One who calls.
Along with this call comes a responsibility to live in the now to the best of my ability. Living in a place with limited or expensive access to the Internet is very revealing. I was able to see the effect of social media on my contentedness. In Australia I could go and look at what my friends back at home were doing and feel left out. I could wallow in my homesickness. Now that I am back home I can look at what my Aussie friends are doing and wish to be back. I have the choice to live in the past or take what I’ve learned and move forward. Wherever we are we have that choice. This is what I’ve clung to since coming home. Just as the Emu represents ever advancing Australia, I am determined to never go backwards.
To anyone who has studied abroad, is studying abroad in the future, or if you just feel stuck in life hear this: Christ has a purpose for where we are now. The challenge is to not waste that time, that minimum wage job or “pointless” class. Let’s live to find meaning in every person and situation. I’ve found His promises to be true. He promises to be there in the pain, the joy and the mundane and He is enough. All in all, the transition home has been smoother than expected. The moments of pain have definitely been worth the growth, experience, memories and love. I will be forever thankful for my time in Queensland; thinking differently, loving effectively and learning about how to live well wherever I am.