For many students, studying abroad is about much more than the sites and cities visited. The experience can be life-changing. The Office of International Programs at Franklin & Marshall College helps students reflect on their time away and its effects.
“We’re trying to help students articulate their experience and develop the language to understand what it meant,” said Ali Janicek, assistant dean for international and off-campus study.
For the past two years, the Office has offered a digital-storytelling workshop each February to give students a chance to recount an important story from their time abroad. Participants in the workshop, which is facilitated by Heather Gregg Reed of IFSA Butler, are encouraged to hone in on a particular message. The group then discusses with each other in a “story circle” before composing scripts and producing three-minute videos, which can incorporate photos, video clips and music.
“I love the processing students are able to do when they’ve gone through the workshop. They come away with something they can keep as a personal takeaway from their time abroad that they can share with friends and family,” Janicek said.
Another workshop is scheduled for next February. Returnees are greeted by a range of other programs as well, like gatherings to welcome them back at the start of each semester, a spring workshop in collaboration with the Office of Student and Post-Graduate Development (OSPGD), “Articulating Your Study Abroad Experience,” and a new club, Dips Abroad.
“The club will provide a good community that students coming back from study abroad can engage with to process, reflect and unpack their off-campus experiences,” said Janicek. “The best audience for someone who has returned is another student who has just returned from study abroad.”
The Office also creates avenues to connect returnees with the local Lancaster community. Once a month, F&M students participate in a panel at J.P. McCaskey High School to discuss study abroad with high school students, teaching them about other parts of the world and about their college experiences.
“It’s meant to be inspiring and educational,” said Janicek. “It’s a great opportunity for F&M to make sure we’re partnering with other entities in the community.”
Students can remain engaged with their international interest by volunteering with the Refugee Center and Community School at Reynolds Middle School, which provides resources for refugees and immigrants in Lancaster, with special focuses on education, health care, integration, English-language learning, and employment. They also can participate in existing programs, like volunteering at the annual International Bonanza in March, becoming an ambassador for the office, or writing stories for the website.
“We're hoping to keep students connected to us and give them ways to keep processing their experience so it doesn’t just feel like one moment in their life, but rather something they can take and carry with them forever,” said Janicek. “There has to be a way to continue thinking about the meaning of what you did, and the meaning of that will change as time goes on.”
Students who studied abroad in the spring or summer are invited to "Dips Abroad Welcome Back Reception" at the Joseph International Center, 5-6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 4.