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From left to right, Alaina Morales, Laura Fredrickson and Morgan Johnson ’12

Re-Entry Seminar Caps a Successful Travel Experience

One of the things Morgan Johnson ’12 still remembers about her years at St. Norbert was the disconnect she felt upon returning to the De Pere campus after studying, interning and researching abroad. Her experiences had changed her profoundly, and she wasn’t the same person anymore. Yet it felt as if all everyone wanted to know about was whether or not she’d had fun. It seemed to her that no one was interested in hearing her deep reflections, or cared to explore the person she was becoming.

Because of this, “it was really easy to just revert back to who I was beforehand,” Johnson says. But it wasn’t satisfying. She wanted to process what she’d gone through. To proudly announce her new-and-evolving self. 

Today, St. Norbert students who venture away from campus are being given that chance for reflection and growth, thanks to the college’s new Gap Re-Entry Seminar. The seminar was created by Laura Fredrickson, Gap Experience director, and Alaina Morales, study-abroad advisor, with assistance from Johnson, who now works at her alma mater as Gap Experience assistant director. (The Gap Experience is a semester-plus-J-term program for incoming first-year students. The program involves off-campus outdoor leadership experiences, service work and learning opportunities.) 

“Alaina and I wanted to provide students with the space to explore the deeper questions that might have arisen due to their experience, and to present them with thought-provoking questions,” says Fredrickson. “You can think about it as a debriefing. We’re trying to help the students look at who they were before they went away, who they are now and how to bridge the gap.”

Together, Morales explains, participants examine how their time away has built in them new understanding of their own identity and new understanding of the world.

Meeting a need
The seminar was piloted in the spring of 2015 for students who completed the fall 2014 Gap Experience, then offered in the fall of 2015 to students who had studied abroad. This spring, the 2015 gap students took the seminar.

Madeline Schultz ’19 was initially leery about the program. Recently returned from her Fall 2015 Gap Experience, she had spent the semester at sites in Minnesota, New Mexico, Chicago and St. Lucia, often performing service work; she felt she had done enough processing, especially with regard to issues such as domestic violence, cultural imperialism and people with special needs. 

“St. Lucia especially had wrecked my mind at times, and really made me think,” she says. “The thought of starting that all over again was a bit exhausting.”

Yet after completing the seminar, she was grateful. 

“I needed it,” she says. “Though it did not set in stone what I can, or should, do with what I have learned, it did show me that my perspectives have changed. And that alone is a step in the right direction.”

The three women hope the six-week seminar will be transformed into a core-curriculum class in the future. And past travel might not be a pre-requisite. Because, at its core, the seminar is getting at cognitive dissonance: those times when one’s thoughts, beliefs and attitudes are inconsistent with one another. Cognitive dissonance can arise from many experiences, not strictly travel alone. Dealing with it requires learning how to become comfortable when you're feeling uncomfortable. 

It’s important to recognize when you're experiencing cognitive dissonance and to fully explore it, Fredrickson says, because this is when your soul is speaking to you. 

And learning to listen to your soul is invaluable.

May 3, 2016