How I Returned From Cloud Nine

It was surreal, driving onto JBU’s campus for the first time since last May. Seven months doesn’t sound like a long time, but so much had happened in my life that it felt like a lifetime.

I’d spent the summer working in Iowa, and then had flown to Northern Ireland to study for three months and explore the culture and country. There were 20 of us who lived together, grew together and formed our own tiny little family.

I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland this past fall semester, learned philosophy, theology and literature from Irish professors, got to know and love a small community of other JBU students, and explored the countryside.

The rolling, grassy hills of the Emerald Isle have stolen my heart. A part of me will always be in the forest of Tollymore and the crashing cliffs by Mussenden Temple.

I can’t lie. I was apprehensive about returning to Northwest Arkansas. I had experienced things apart from my friends at JBU — and I knew these friends had moved on this past semester as well. Would I still have a place here? Did I still belong?

The next three days were a dance of emotions as I ran into friends I had met in Ireland, moved into my new home, met my new housemates in the townhouses, joyfully reunited with old friends, rejoiced in being back at JBU, and mourned the end of a wonderful chapter abroad.

My fears were baseless as my friends opened their arms to me, and I slid back into my old places of being.

That’s the richness of coming back to a place. My semester in Northern Ireland was one of the best I’ve ever had, but JBU continues to surprise me.

So much has changed here, from the new and improved weight room to the layout of the library, and I keep rediscovering things about this place that I thought I knew. Friends and mentors have shown me love as they ask about my experiences and as they share with me some of their own.

The rhythm of the semester is beginning again, and my heart is full now that I am back. My life here is richer for having left, because I can see how lovely and wonderful this wee little school truly is.

About the author

Valerie McArthur

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