Returning to the University of Richmond after a semester abroad is, in a word, confusing.
Reuniting with old friends, especially underclassmen, inevitably meant being asked, "How was abroad?" approximately 10 times a day. Realistically, not everyone who asked cared very much about my four months in Ecuador. But, I still politely responded with "It was good," or, "Well, I didn't die."
However, this was far from the greatest challenge coming back from abroad. The pinnacle of my confusion was not returning to campus; it was finding myself frustrated and uninspired by the student body.
I had an unexpected instinct to criticize nearly everything about UR throughout the beginning of the semester. This instinct, coupled with the drudgery of tackling the UR workload post-abroad and an unexpected stint of deep seasonal depression, made January and February exceptionally hard.
I found myself complaining about the apathy of the student body: apathy toward religion, politics, social injustice and even the over-consumption of single-use plastic.
While in Ecuador, I was inspired by my professors and classmates who always seemed to be coordinating marches and protests. Yet, when I returned to UR, I overheard all too many self-absorbed conversations about lodge lists, darties and the internal politics of fraternities. The predictably of it all made me question: Why I did I ever leave South America, and can I possibly graduate early?
It was not until March that I began to see I was overlooking all the activism that my friends were pioneering on this campus and in the community at large. It is true that there is a subset of students who obsess over fleeting issues. But many post-abroad students are prepared to make their lasting mark in the global community.
Although a lot of returning juniors claim that their semester changed their lives forever, I would never claim that four short months in Ecuador radically changed me.
Nevertheless, I would say that I have returned to UR with greater perspective and have gotten involved with my community. I now serve on the executive board of the Panhellenic Council and I do volunteer work with the Latinx community in Richmond city. Lastly, I have a greater understanding of my priorities and have chosen to prioritize my health, relationships and sanity before academics.
Now, the challenge becomes maintaining the motivation to invest in myself and my community when it is so easy to slide back into the routine of diligent studying followed by heavy drinking.
I would also challenge other students who have studied abroad to do the same. It is perfectly reasonable to enjoy the University of Richmond for what it is, but please remember the lessons you learned abroad.
Actively apply this new knowledge to your daily life in more meaningful ways than merely starting every class discussion with, "While I was abroad..."
Changing our way of life at UR might be hard. But, it is hoped that personal growth was the reason we all went abroad to begin with.
Contact contributor Alexis Aviles at firstname.lastname@example.org.