Stories that Shaped Us: A Lifelong Learning Journey

Makenzie Kuykendall is an ISA London alumna and current ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador at the University of Idaho whose experience abroad during 2022 led her to discover a passion for international travel.

We reached out to learn more about why she chose to go abroad with ISA England and how her study abroad experience helped shape her plans for the future. Check out this unique story below.

What impact did your study abroad experience have on you?

Studying abroad was the most formative experience of my life. Having grown up in a fairly rural and sheltered setting, it was extremely eye-opening to live in a big city like London and be able to meet people from so many diverse cultures. My courses at Kingston University, while challenging and fun, had a lot less busywork throughout the semester than what I was used to in the US. This newfound free time provided a lot of opportunities to experience my surroundings, rather than bury my nose in schoolwork as I had been for years. I learned a lot about myself and became very comfortable experiencing things on my own. I went to many restaurants, West End Shows, and weekend trips throughout the continent by myself. I also made a couple of very close friends whom I still talk to today! Overall, studying abroad gave me more confidence in myself and I feel like I really learned a lot about who I am.

Kings Cross Station

Describe a meaningful experience you had abroad that changed your perspective on life

I would say the experience that changed my perspective most on life was living in a walkable city and using public transportation for the first time. I had no idea what that was like before studying abroad. Being able to go anywhere with my own two feet was liberating. I could grocery shop, go out to restaurants, hang out in nature, and travel to other countries – all without owning a vehicle or paying for expensive Uber rides. I became more active without even paying for a gym membership, averaging between 10,000-15,000 steps a day by simply going about my daily tasks. This changed my perspective on what is an acceptable place for me to live – it must be walkable! I now have strong opinions on city design and American car culture. I wish everyone had access to a walkable lifestyle. I think many people would be happier, healthier, and save a lot of money this way.

Kingston on a sunny day

Many people hear about the culture shock they may experience when moving to a new country for the first time, but many don’t consider the shock of coming home. What is reverse culture shock? How do you feel like that affected you on your return home?

Before going on my program, it was pounded into my head that culture shock was an inevitable part of the study abroad experience. However, I was never affected by culture shock. I didn’t miss a thing! I wished to stay in London forever.

If someone traveling abroad absolutely loves their host country as I did, it is fairly likely they would experience something called reverse culture shock. Reverse culture shock sets in after returning home after living in another place. There are many ways it can manifest, but personally, I experienced intense depression, confusion, and a feeling like I couldn’t coherently explain my experiences to others. 6 months of living abroad is not something that can be packed into a few sentences!

Royal Pavilion Dining Hall in Brighton

This definitely impacted my return to the US. I had never heard of reverse culture shock before, but I noticed something was wrong during my last couple of weeks in my host country. I began binge-eating my favorite British chocolates. It began to sink in that I wouldn’t have them for much longer! I started to feel increasingly overwhelmed with anxiety as my return date drew nearer.

I returned to the US during the summertime, and I actually flew straight into Montana for a 2-week educational program which was a part of my degree. I did not have my car during this time, and I was harshly reminded of how debilitating it can be to exist in a sprawling small town without one. I had a particularly bad experience when I walked 45 minutes to a fast-food place for a cheap meal. As I walked, huge semi-trucks went speeding by. There were parts of my route where there was no sidewalk, so I was forced to walk along the sides of highways. I didn’t feel safe! When I finally arrived at the fast-food place, there was a sign on the door that said, “Drive-thru only. No walk-ups, no exceptions” I was shocked! I trudged 45 minutes back home and ordered dinner on my phone, which was unfortunate because I wanted to avoid spending the extra money on delivery. The delivery driver forgot to give me utensils and my dessert, which I realized too late. I was unable to get in contact with the driver or the restaurant again. I ended up eating a messy meal with my bare hands. This scenario is something that would have never happened to me while I was in London. I had many more similar experiences where I was disturbed by things I used to find normal.

Desert with friends at Italian Bear in London

What were some ways in which you processed and worked through the feelings of culture shock you experienced?

I would say that now, nearly a year later, my feelings of reverse culture shock have not completely gone away. However, I was able to work through my feelings in a few different ways. Although there was not very much that I missed about the US, I did my best to enjoy what I could. It was nice to have good Mexican food again, and I was happy to be with my cat again. I sought professional help and with time, I began to readjust to my life. Something that helped kickstart my recovery was being hired as an ISA Global Ambassador. This was a role where I represented ISA at my University and got other students interested in studying abroad. Through this job, I had the opportunity to talk about my experience often and spend time with my university’s education abroad programs staff. The more time I spent in this environment, the more I was able to process my experience. This led me to an important conclusion, which completely changed my future plans…

Makenzie in front of the London Eye

What changes to your future plans have you made because of your study abroad?

I plan to move to Europe permanently. My time abroad has turned my future plans completely upside down. No longer do I want to be a K-12 teacher and live in the Pacific Northwest. My husband and I have made plans to pursue master’s degrees in the Netherlands, and eventually find jobs and start a family there. My dream is to work in the field of international education, perhaps as a program manager or other behind-the-scenes kind of person. For the past year, I have been learning to speak Dutch, researching programs and scholarships, and doing everything I can to set my sails toward my new goals. I am so happy I went abroad; my life is so much better because of it!

Curious to hear more from ISA/TEAN alumni? Read more blogs from London Alumni or explore more about the experiences others have seen the impacts of study abroad impact their their professional goals.

Inspired by Makenzie’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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