Sophomore Margherita Zaramella is one of only five women in Malibu from Delta Gamma’s pledge class of 38 members. The other 33 members are studying overseas in Pepperdine’s International Programs.
Zaramella started the semester without her best friends, but she said she has developed close relationships with her new suitemates and found ways to keep in touch with her friends who are studying abroad.
“This is a part of Pepperdine’s community,” Zaramella said. “It’s definitely a transition because I am trying to navigate sophomore year without my closest friends.”
Zaramella is not alone in this transition. Some 80% of Pepperdine’s students study abroad at some point in their four years, according to Pepperdine University, which means that friend groups established in Malibu are often interrupted.
Kelly Haer, executive director of the Boone Center for the Family, said Pepperdine students who study abroad have to be intentional about maintaining their relationships with those who are not in their program, all while building new connections in host cities.
Those who stay in Malibu have to adjust to campus life without their friends from the prior year, Haer said.
Despite the stresses that IP puts on making and maintaining relationships, Pepperdine students have utilized technology and university resources to adapt.
Students Adapt to a Different Campus Life
Having previous roommates, friends and significant others overseas has caused students in Malibu to change their routines.
Zaramela is studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the spring semester, but until then, she said she is at the Malibu campus without her closest friends from her first year.
The transition from last year has been a challenge, but she has adapted with the help of her housing situation, Zaramella said.
This semester, Zaramella said she lives with women who lived on the floor above her in her first-year housing. Zaramella was not close friends with her roommates previously but now is extremely grateful they are in her life.
“I am beyond lucky to be in a suite with all of these amazing girls,” Zaramella said. “I have so many people to lean on that are still here.”
Pepperdine focuses on providing the students who are studying in Malibu with support during this transition, said Greg Muger, director of Student Experience in the Malibu International Programs Office.
“Seaside Apartments was particularly meant to support students who are sophomores,” Muger said. “We try to put students together that are going to be having a similar experience, whether they are here for the fall or abroad for the spring and vice-versa.”
Muger said this housing plan allows resident advisors and spiritual life advisors to know their residents’ situations and be a resource for those students.
Sophomore Casey Bechert has been dating fellow Pepperdine student Kyle White for two years. White, who is also a sophomore, is studying abroad in Hauteville, Switzerland for the full 2023-2024 academic year, while Bechert is staying in Malibu for both semesters.
Bechert said she is focusing on being bold in her daily campus life during this transition.
“I really had to dive in and do a few things that made me uncomfortable,” Bechert said. “Whether that was getting involved in new things or being willing to reach out to random people to get lunch.”
Friends Stay Connected Around the World
Staying connected takes a conscious effort from those studying abroad and those staying in Malibu.
Bechert said she shares her schedule with her boyfriend so they can call each other at least once a week. On a daily basis, the couple send each other texts to stay in touch.
Couples emphasized that consistent communication is the key to surviving a long-distance relationship, according to previous Graphic reporting.
Intentional scheduling of phone calls has made their relationship stronger, Bechert said.
“It helps us to be more intentional in our conversations because we have a limited time period to talk because of the time difference,” Bechert said. “We want to make sure we are really focused on each other during this time.”
Sophomore Faith Talbott is abroad in Hauteville, Switzerland for the full 2023-2024 academic year. Talbott said she is not consistent with answering texts, so maintaining relationships with those in Malibu has not been easy.
“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to be as difficult as this,” Talbott said. “Here, I have to be intentional about sending pictures and texts to my friends.”
Other students said maintaining their friendships has been possible with technology.
“I talk to them [my friends] everyday,” Zaramella said. “We are still very good friends.”
Junior Dylan Duggan studied abroad in Heidelberg, Germany, for the spring 2023 semester. Duggan said he played games remotely to stay in touch with his friends.
“It was a little harder, but we maintained the friendships,” Duggan said.
Pepperdine Hopes to Merge Abroad Life with Malibu Life
Pepperdine’s IP team acknowledges that students have a big transition when they return to Malibu, Muger said.
“Before they come back, our staff abroad starts that conversation of ‘What does it look like for you to return home?’” Muger said.
Pepperdine provides returning students with a program called Landed, Muger said.
Pepperdine’s IP Landed program allows students to reflect on their time abroad and talk about integrating back into Malibu campus life, according to previous Graphic reporting.
The Landed program meets Tuesdays from 6-7 p.m., on the Lighthouse Patio.
Duggan said combing his first-year friends with those he made abroad for housing helped him successfully transition back to Malibu life.
“I got lucky,” Duggan said. “One of my friends I made freshman year really needed housing, and a bunch of my Germany friends needed housing.”
Not all students plan to merge their two friend groups.
Talbott said she does not see herself blending her first-year friend group with her new friends from her program.
“I don’t see myself making it an initiative to integrate the two friend groups unless they really want to,” Talbott said. “I don’t want to put people in uncomfortable situations.”
Junior Morgan McCoshum studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the full 2022-2023 academic year.
McCoshum said the majority of her friendships from her first year were surface-level connections, so she was able to make a smooth transition back into Malibu life with a new set of friends.
“I met up with my friends from Argentina and their friends,” McCoshum said. “It is like our group is expanding.”
Pepperdine Offers Resources to Deal with the Negative Aspects
Pepperdine provides resources in case students struggle with this transition, Haer said.
Before Duggan studied abroad in the spring, he said he was jealous of his friends who were abroad in the fall.
“I was really happy for my friends when they would tell me about what they were doing abroad, but deep down, there was a little jealousy,” Duggan said.
Many students feel like they are missing out on a key college experience if they do not go abroad, Haer said.
“They could experience a lot of FOMO — fear of missing out,” Haer said. “They could think or feel that they are really missing something fundamental to the college experience.”
Haer said students who are struggling with jealousy, both in Malibu and overseas, must self-reflect and take action if necessary.
“Be willing to feel the loss of your presence,” Haer said. “Be able to take some action to physically recognize the loss.”
Students who are abroad could experience loneliness, Haer said.
“They probably have lots of different emotions,” Haer said. “They could be lonely.”
Zaramella said relationships do not form automatically, so she experienced loneliness when she first returned to campus this fall.
“Relationships don’t happen overnight,” Zaramella said. “It can be hard some days.”
Students who study abroad often feel the symptoms of loneliness, which include feeling detached from their community or feeling like they have no one to rely on, Holly Hunley wrote in a July 2010 ScienceDirect journal.
Zaramella said she has found people to rely on during this time.
“This is our second month in school, and it’s going well,” Zaramella said.
Haer said Pepperdine offers many resources to guide students through these feelings.
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