I spent the fall of my sophomore year running to and from advising meetings making sure that I could participate in the Disney College Program that spring and still graduate on time. With credits I brought in from high school and internship credits to be earned, I was told it was possible. The decision to accept the Disney College Program carried even more weight as I already had plans to study abroad in London the fall of my junior year.
This meant that I left the winter break of my sophomore year knowing I would not return to the University of Denver for an entire calendar year.
The Disney College Program proved to be as challenging, exciting and, dare I say, “magical” as expected. I spent the four months exploring the beaches of Florida, riding Space Mountain and working full time with the occasional 13-hour shift. Back At DU, classes continued, our hockey team won the national championship and my dorm room received a new occupant who quickly befriended my friend group while I was nearly 2,000 miles away. Making Mickey-shaped waffles is not what I consider a dream job, but the overall experience brought me some of my closest friends and favorite memories as we bonded over the long hours at work in crazy costumes and experienced the magic of Disney ourselves.
The fall of my junior year, I headed to London to begin my semester studying at Queen Mary University of London. It was here that I took one of my favorite classes of my college career: Knighthood and Chivalry in the Middle Ages. I reveled in learning about history and being able to visit the sites and graves of the people I was learning about. It was also in London where I reunited with a handful of my friends from DU. We spent the semester exploring the city, visiting other friends in their study abroad locations across Europe, and I listened to the highlight reel of what I had missed back on campus while I was away in Orlando.
As time drew closer for us to leave London, I realized I was nervous about returning to campus. Listening to my friends recount the past quarters with stories of unfamiliar names and places, I grew worried I had lost my place and it felt almost like starting over again.
Returning to campus, I experienced a bit of reverse culture shock.
My friends were scattered living in different apartments and houses rather than all in one dorm building. I didn’t have a dining plan for the cafeteria but spent my nights cooking for one. My classes seemed filled with friend groups that I was not a part of. I felt like a freshman all over again. Except this time I was a junior who was meant to be out of the dorms but felt that I had fallen behind in some aspects of being apart of the DU community.
Dynamics in my friend group had changed and I found myself at times feeling disconnected and unsure of my place. I found comfort in a few close friends but even still, conflicting class and work schedules proved challenging.
Facing loneliness, I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and really make an effort with the friends I already had. I edged my way into the friend groups in my classes and made weekly lunch dates with friends to ensure that we see each other. Still, it was difficult to discover that some friendships made freshman year had dissolved in my absence, but this only made the friendships that remained ever more precious.
Returning to campus was a rude awakening into the adult world where friendships don’t just exist because they live dorm room next door. Adults have to actually work at and prioritize friendships to keep them alive. I do not regret my decision to leave for the Disney College Program and studying abroad as these experiences brought me so many opportunities and friendships that would not have been possible having stayed on campus. Looking forward to senior year I know that there is more effort to be made in strengthening my friendships and creating new ones, especially as we all explore opportunities that may take us far and wide.