SHU Hosts First Annual CT Area Study Abroad Re-entry Conference

Photo by Mike Lauterborn

News Story: February 23, 2014

On Saturday, February 8, Sacred Heart University’s Office of Global Affairs hosted the first annual Connecticut Area Study Abroad Re-Entry Conference (CASA) on its Fairfield campus. The event attracted several dozen students from, not only Sacred Heart, but the University of Bridgeport, Quinnipiac University, Fairfield University and the University of New Haven.

“Many areas around the country do things like this—there’s one for the Boston area, D.C., New Jersey—but there is nothing like this in Connecticut,” said Francesca Schenker, coordinator of Global Affairs at SHU, who created the program. “A lot of work was put into organizing and hosting this event, and the idea is that it will be a rotating annual conference.”

Schenker explained the benefits of the effort, noting, “when students return from studying abroad for a semester, a re-entry activity helps them process their experiences and gives them a chance to talk to others who also may be less than thrilled at the prospect of returning home.”

Schenker completed a 12-month NAFSA Academy professional development program in fall 2012, and her takeaway initiative was to develop a re-entry activity—something that would have been a benefit in her own study abroad experience.

“I had lived in Spain in college and found it hard coming back, and I didn’t have a re-entry program,” she said. “Reverse culture shock is sometimes harder than the culture shock itself. You become bored after all the newness; it’s hard to return to old routines; and after a certain point, people don’t want to hear about your travels. You get reverse homesickness for things you became accustomed to overseas like new friends and host families.”

Up to 250 SHU students travel abroad every year, from two- to four-week periods mostly. This particular conference targeted those that had been away for a whole semester – about 20 to 25 SHU students each semester.

The event offered icebreaker activities, and sponsor organizations such as the Center for International Studies and American Institute for Foreign Study hosted display tables and provided information on overseas opportunities.

There were also three sessions guided by a panel. The first session aimed to help students “unpack” and reflect on their experience. The second discussed options and possibilities for attending school, teaching and working abroad after graduation. The third advised students on how to market their experience, highlighting skills gained to create an “elevator pitch” to a potential employer.

SHU student Julia Grimali ’14 was a conference participant who had studied in Dingle, Ireland, during the spring 2013 semester. “It was my first time going abroad. I was a transfer student and commuter and felt like I had missed out on the college experience. Going abroad was a good way to change things up,” she said. While the semester was “everything” she expected and more, it would have been a closed door had there not been this re-entry opportunity. “SHU’s Global Ambassadors Program and this conference have opened new doors, altering my career path with the thought of pursuing international education,” she added.

Fellow event attendee and SHU student Karli Ryan ’15 offered a similar perspective. Ryan studied in Rome, from last August to mid-December. “This was my first time really leaving the country at all. I didn’t expect to love Italy as much as I did,” she said. “The program (Global Ambassadors) and conference have been a great way to share travels and learn how to get back abroad.”