By Katie Simpson ’20
In the fall of 2018 Dexter House will pilot an intentional living community that will be open to any student who has studied abroad during their time at Gordon. The Tartan spoke with Laura Carmer, Director of Student Care, Health and Safety for GEO and creator of the program.
Carmer, who directed the Elijah Project in Dexter for eleven years, saw the space in Dexter and recognized a need for returning students. “I’ve talked to students for twenty years about coming back from study abroad, so I was aware of what challenges people faced,” Carmer said.
“For the most part people want to continue to unpack their experience, and they have some issues reintegrating back in, and figuring out how what they’ve done over the past semester is going to integrate into, and inform, their life going forward, but it’s pretty challenging to get any number of them together for any kind of program you offer.”
Carmer also noted that the Orvieto, Balkans, and Best Semester programs are cohort based, intentional communities. She explains, “when [students] get back they recognize how rich that is and they miss that, and then on the flip side there are people who went to somewhere like Budapest all by themselves and really missed any kind of community, and so they come back with a strong desire to have some kind of community.”
Of the challenges students face in returning from study abroad, Carmer said, “If there’s one thing you can say is universal for people it is that there’s a desire to unpack and process and really live into the experience, and there’s usually not as much desire to hear people process that from other people.”
“But other study abroad returners understand that and do like to hear people’s stories even if they hear them talking about their study abroad experience again and again.”
In addition to the residential component, Carmer hopes to use the program as “ a welcoming space on a regular basis, once a week, for anyone who is a study abroad returner.” She envisions that Dexter could be used to host meals, information sessions with Career Services on leveraging study abroad experience in a job search, or for students to simply swap study abroad stories and talk about what they’ve learned.
Stressing the importance of study abroad experiences in general, Carmer said, “the world needs more people who can sit with a group of people and understand that they are each coming from different places, and so and there are differing perspectives…”
She concluded, “The image of God is not held by one small group, but by the breadth of his whole creation…going abroad and getting an experience of people who are also made in the image of God who deal with food differently, who deal with family differently, who deal with cultural norms differently[…]is an enriching thing”
The program will be jointly supervised by Carmer and Village RD, Sarah Welch, with an independent AC staff, which next year will be Bobby Grinnell (’19) and Karoline Niles (’19).