The buzz of excitement could be heard echoing down the corridor leading to Hart House’s Great Hall on Thursday night. An almost palpable energy radiating from the hundreds of students gathered to reconnect with one another, now almost one month into the school year. Name tags. Photo booth. Finger sandwiches. This is the Summer Abroad Reunion.
Short speeches from, Woodworth College Principal, Joe Desloges and Sarah Witol, Director, Professional & International Programs Office, made for all the more time to catch up with classmates. While it’s no doubt impossible to capture a month’s worth of experiences in two short hours, the reunion became a nostalgic space to laugh, to celebrate and to enjoy mini cupcakes.
The friends you make on a Summer Abroad are unique in that you become so immediately bonded through the shared experience of culture shock, or homesickness, or even, on a more basic level, sheer proximity to one another. These are generally people you didn’t know until you landed in another country with dreamy ideas about the month to come. You were excited about the course you were taking; the food you would eat; the trips you would take – and so were they. The breadth and diversity of Summer Abroad programming connects students from a broad range of programs who might not have otherwise met. Speaking to my own experiences, I had to go half way across the world to meet a girl who grew up in the same city as I did.
Said one student, “Summer Abroad is a fast way to find family on a big campus like U of T.” She wasn’t the only student to liken the friendships made on Summer Abroad programs to family-like connection. The reunion serves the purpose, then, of ‘bridging the gap’ and bringing those international friendships back to the University of Toronto campus; reuniting Summer Abroad “families” over light refreshments.
The students were given buttons upon their arrival and were encouraged to write on the program they had completed. One student, having just completed the Summer Abroad program in England noticed a pattern occurring among her classmates. “Everyone had written ‘Oxford’ on their buttons and I really think that shows the attachment we still have to the university even though we weren’t actually students there. We were some of the last people to leave because we were just enjoying hanging out and spending that time together.”
A slideshow at the front projected some the best student photos taken and instilled a wanderlust for all the possibilities next summer holds. Colourful, detailed architecture in Europe; lush, green landscapes in South America; and brilliant, neon city lights in Asia brightened up an otherwise grey September night.
“In order to understand and admire cultural differences, it is important to live them first-hand” said Professor Michael Lettieri, course instructor of the Italian Culture course in Siena, “I am pleased that, again this year, so many of our students travelled to Italy to be ‘immersed’ in Italian language and culture. For some students this was probably the first time away from home and this experience allowed them to grow both emotionally and culturally. [The] reunion was an opportunity again to connect and to share the pleasant time we all had during five intensive weeks in Italy. The experience has left an indelible mark on their life. I am happy to have been with a remarkable group of students of whom the University can be justifiably proud.”
Despite being hundreds, in some cases, thousands of miles way from their destination countries there, in the Hart House Great Hall, surrounded by their classmates, professors, and peers, the students got to experience that rush of excitement that comes with participating in Summer Abroad just one more time. Sharing future travel plans, pining for authentic host country favourites, and laughing at the impossibility of answering “so how was your trip?” in a way that could possibly do it justice. Back on U of T soil, we’re reunited and it feels so good.
By Ashlee Redmond (Participant of the 2018 Germany Summer Abroad Program)
Check out our photo gallery from the 2018 Summer Abroad Reunion.