Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When You Come Home From Studying Abroad

It being the end of our January term, Augustana College students have just returned from studying abroad in Thailand, Cuba, India, New Zealand, touring Europe, and elsewhere.  We place a high value on study abroad, because when you return, you can never see the world the same again.


We think that when Americans study abroad, that's good for the whole world because it helps Americans to see America as they could not see it otherwise. 

Of course, it's not without its costs.  Our students who have just come back are jetlagged and road-weary.  Many are a little deeper in debt.  And the new term is about to begin.

That being the case, let me offer some advice to those of you who are returning from studies abroad.  I know you're tired, so I'll be brief:

1) Get some rest.  Stay up until it's dark out, and then sleep deeply.  Get back in sync with the sun on this side of the world. 

2) Journal every day.  Trust me.  Do this.  Do it now. Don't put it off.  Your memories are already fading. Get it down.  Write however you want - impressionistically, narratively, whatever.  Write about all five senses.  Write about language.  Write about the people you were with, and write their names down. Write down names of places, hotels, restaurants, museums. Do it now.  Go.

3) Tell stories. To anyone who will listen.  Storytelling is one of our oldest and best ways of sharing our experiences.  Enrich your classmates and professors who couldn't join you.  Tell us what you saw, what surprised you.  Tell us anecdotes about specific times, places, meals, people, vehicles.  Give us detail.  As you do, you will nourish your own memories, and you'll sort out what matters most to you.  As Umberto Eco once wrote,
"One who tells stories must have another to whom he tells them, and only thus can he tell them to himself."* 
And perhaps most importantly,

4) Come up with a couple of one-liners.  This is how to prepare for the inevitable question, "How was India?"  If you say "It was amazing!" the conversation is over and the opportunity is gone.  Instead, try something like "I never had food like the food I had in Delhi!" or "I wish you could have seen the quality of the rivers" or "The best day was the fourth day."  If the questioner was just being polite, that will satisfy them.  But these specific memories, offered as one-liners, are invitations to further conversation.  They are a way of saying "Would you like to know more?"

You had a great experience.  Some of it was wonderful, some was no doubt very difficult.  This is why we go.  Now, you've brought it home.  Do what you can to preserve the memories, and to share them with the rest of us.

So welcome home!  And now, go get some sleep.  (And then you can read Part Two of this post.)

My mother in Rome during her college years.

*Umberto Eco, Baudolino, (New York: Harcourt, 2002) p. 207.


  1. Good advice. I remember returning from Moscow (when it was still Soviet) and being left speechless when people asked, "So how was it?" I still appreciate the person who asked, "What was the best part? What was the most challenging part?"

  2. One of my favorite memories from studying abroad? Ben "The Crane" Iverson.....ΏΠΑ!

  3. Thanks, Andrea and Nancy. I'd be willing to bet (a small sum, anyway, not being much of a gambler) that those experiences abroad represent some of your most vivid and important college experiences.

  4. The coolest thing with being a foreign exchange student is the breadth of intellectual experience the journey is going to bring. Taking it back home is the best. A student will really be best served being assisted by an additional mind that will bring new vantage into learning.