After an experience-driven, culturally enlightening adventure abroad, no one returns to the good ol’ U.S.A. with quite the same state of mind as when they left.
After living in Italy for four months, I came home with countless memories, a passport full of stamps, and a broader understanding of the world. Even though I returned with a new perspective and a severe case of the travel bug, I found that it was incredibly easy to fall back into the same, dull routine I had established pre-departure. Life after study abroad seemed to lack excitement and newness. I wasn’t able to board a plane, train, or bus during the weekends to venture to a new destination or spend my evenings strolling through the streets of my temporary home. For some students—myself included—classes started back up and we are once again forced to worry about assignments, finding a part-time job, and landing that coveted internship to boost our resumes. For others, it was time to enter the “real world” and get big boy and big girl jobs. After two years as a study abroad alumna, I’ve come to realize that the excitement associated with studying abroad doesn’t have to end after the wheels of that 747 touch American soil. The following are three habits study abroad students should continue to practice upon their return to keep the abroad mentality alive:
1.Taking advantage of every opportunity handed to you
Much to our despair, all study abroad programs eventually come to an end. With that knowledge comes the understanding that one must turn into the Yes Man. For those that have not seen the Jim Carrey classic, it’s the story of a man who challenges himself to say “yes” to everything for a year. I remember numerous moments throughout my program when all I wanted to do was throw on my yoga pants, grab a bottle of wine, and peruse Netflix as soon as my classes were done for the day. These cravings were no match for the ever-present voice in my head persuading me to accept the invitation to climb the steps of the Duomo or venture to a new gelato shop with fellow classmates. That voice was the sole reason I signed up for canyon jumping in Switzerland—an activity made all the more daunting by my fear of heights—and camel riding through the Sahara dessert in Morocco. Studying abroad is what you make of it, and I’d like to think I made the most out of every minute by just saying “yes” to each opportunity presented to me, no matter how far it lay outside my comfort zone. When I returned to Tallahassee shortly after my abroad program ended, the Yes Man alter ego I’d created became dormant. It took numerous nights of cheesy rom-coms accompanied with Ben and Jerry’s to jolt me from my boring ways and awaken the Yes Man once again. Last minute plans to drive to the beach or join my friends for a drink after work quickly filled my schedule. You never know what kind of adventure, even small, you’ll find yourself on if you take advantage of the opportunity. I haven’t said ‘yes’ to skydiving as of yet, but who knows…maybe someday I will.
2.Participating in cultural exchanges
Studying abroad completely immerses students into the culture, language, and customs of the area in which they live. While in Florence, I conversed with locals in Italian every day and participated in community festivals throughout the semester. By the end of my program, I’d met people from all over Europe, parts of Africa, Australia, and even South America. I became addicted to befriending everyone I came in contact with during my travels. Within the U.S., a little research will uncover events within any community that entail interacting with individuals from different cultures. For students, universities often provide cultural events through the departments that serve the needs of international students. Organizations will recruit international students, as well as U.S. students, to come together for social, cultural, and educational activities. If your university lacks an organization of that nature, consider starting one of your own! It’s a great way for students, both domestic and international, to learn about one another through global exchange initiatives. For those who graduated and are on the 9am-5pm grind, consider volunteering as a conversation partner or English tutor for individuals within your community looking to learn or practice their English. These positions are perfect for people that enjoy meeting others from diverse cultures. They are commonly found through public libraries.
3.Appreciating the little things
In Florence, every gelato-filled waffle cone was leisurely savored, glass of wine sipped, and sunset viewed from the Ponte Vecchio captured by every iPhone at hand. Every meal, new introduction, and weekend adventure was thoroughly enjoyed. Even something as simple as a Skype conversation with family or friends in the States was considered precious. When abroad, these little things were actually big things. Why can’t that be the case while residing in the U.S.? The sunsets at home may not seem as impressive as those seen from the top of the Swiss Alps or the docks of Venice, but that doesn’t mean they are any less beautiful and important. The same can be said of a phone call to the folks. As I was only able to speak with my parents about once or twice a month while abroad due to conflicting schedules and differing time zones, I take full advantage of them being a quick phone call away now that I’m back in the States. Wine may not be the same a it was in Italy, but I still try to sip slowly to enjoy every drop. Just remember there is so much to appreciate no matter where you are!
I am currently a second year graduate student studying Integrated Marketing Communications at Florida State University. When I was admitted into the program, I accepted the position of Marketing Graduate Assistant within the International Programs Department. I now help train and manage the Student Recruiter team. I’d love to remain working in the field of International Education upon graduation. As I finish up school, I continue to travel domestically and internationally. I’ve come to the conclusion that the travel bug will never leave my system, and I’m OK with that!