Grace Lower | Feb 21, 2018
This past weekend, I went to a wine and cheese night to celebrate my friend’s return from Spain. Having studied abroad there myself, I couldn’t wait to hear about her adventures abroad. As the two of us swapped stories about our quirky host families and our newfound appreciation for tapas, I realized just how many of my study abroad memories had faded. Sure, I could recite my “greatest hits”—those memorable travel stories guaranteed to get a laugh or a nod of approval. But surface-level details, like where I stayed when I went to Cordoba, or whether I had gone on a walking tour of Sevilla, were gone. As transformative as my study abroad experience had been, ultimately, it’s become just another chapter in my life.
When you finally return home after months of travel, it can take a while to get reacclimated to “the real world.” You might spend a few weeks marveling at how big the restaurant portions are here in the US, lamenting that your hometown isn’t walkable, or indulging in all the peanut butter you can eat. You’ll also find that it’s hard to talk about your travels in an authentic way. You’ll want to tell everyone about your experience abroad—but at the same time, it can get a little tedious to answer, “how was your trip?” over and over again. It’s hard to tell travel stories without sounding braggy (just try starting any story with “when I was traveling through Paris,” and see how quickly eyes start to roll). Meanwhile, sharing anything negative makes you sound incredibly spoiled (“what do you mean you didn’t have a good time in India?!”). At times, it can seem like you’re left with a lot of memories and nothing tangible to do with them.
Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to keep moving forward after your travels end. As you get settled into your life back home, you’ll have lots of time to reflect on your experience abroad. Whether your trip was an absolute dream or a difficult journey, there will be moments from your travels that you’ll want to keep alive for years to come. Here are a few ways to make sure they last.
Journaling is an excellent habit to adopt while you’re on the road (bonus points if you’ve ever journaled from your hostel bed by the glow of your flashlight). But once you’ve gotten back home, try to spend a few minutes per week writing about your travels. It doesn’t have to be anything profound—just a few sentences or phrases. What have you learned about yourself during your time abroad? What have you learned about the world? What skills did you gain from your trip? How can you apply the lessons you’ve learned into your academic, personal, and professional life?
“Use it or lose it” has become a serious cliché among language learners—but it’s absolutely true. If you don’t find a way to practice your Italian/Spanish/Arabic/Japanese/etc. when you get home, everything you’ve learned (including all those grammar rules) will begin to slip away. If you can, find a local meetup group or a language exchange partner to keep your conversational skills sharp. If you can’t find fellow linguaphiles to practice with, use technology to your advantage. Get a language app, subscribe to a foreign language podcast, or watch your favorite TV show with foreign subtitles. Whatever it takes, try to keep those language skills sharp. Make sure you’re also staying on top of any news from your host country. Add a popular newspaper from your host country to the “favorites” toolbar on your browser, and periodically check in on current events.
Bring a little bit of your host country into your weekly routine
One thing I admired about Spanish culture was its emphasis on down-time. I knew it was something I wanted to value in my own life once I returned to the US. While I certainly can’t carve out time for a full-fledged siesta during my workday, I make it a priority to keep my lunch break work-free. Unless there’s a serious deadline or an emergency, I use my hour-long lunch to relax, enjoy a good meal, read a book, or take a walk. Avoiding the temptation to check my inbox or get a jump-start on my next project has improved my productivity and my mental health. As strange as it seems, the Spanish reverence for work-life balance has made all the difference for my professional life.
Social media makes it easier than ever to keep up with the friends you make abroad. But rather than passively “liking” Instagram posts or Facebook updates, why not make use of the “comment” and “message” features? Regular chats with your international friends will help you keep your language skills sharp, but beyond that, they’ll ensure that your friendship lasts longer than the few months you spent abroad. You’ll be able to reminisce about the fun you had during your travels—and even plan international reunion trip!
Digital photo collections are a great way to preserve memories, but there’s something to be said about a physical photo-set. My recommendation is to spend the extra $10 to get your photos developed at your local convenience store. You can stash them away in an album, buy frames for them, decorate your fridge with them, or even make a cool display like one of these. Your travel photos are guaranteed to bring back rich memories whenever you take the time to look at them.
Although it’s tough to leave an incredible destination, you’ll probably be thrilled to be home. Enjoy it! But once you start to feel a little restless, listen to your gut. There’s a good chance that you’re ready for your next adventure. It’s never too soon to start setting goals for a future trip. There’s so much more of the world to see—and with the right balance of saving, planning, and plain old luck, you’ll be on your way in no time!
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.