EUROPE

I Studied Abroad! Now What?

mountain - Kelsey Dillon

Studying abroad is like climbing a mountain. You have to come down eventually, but that doesn’t mean you stop climbing.

You spent months searching for the perfect program. You worked a part time job, fundraised, and applied for scholarships. You set goals and polished up your language skills. You told and retold your parents, “I’ll be fine.” Maybe they even believed you! You packed your bags, boarded your flight, and spent a few weeks, months, or even a year making a new home in your host country. And now, here you are. Back where you started. A little older, sure. A little wiser? That’s debatable. But home isn’t the same as before—or maybe you’re the one who changed. Either way, the question remains: now what?

I was asking myself that question a few months ago. Last spring, I left my comfort zone behind when I went to study at the Institute of Political Studies in Aix-en-Provence, France. I spent six months learning about international politics at a time when those politics were being formed and shaped at lightning speed. When I returned from my program, I surprised my family with a new confidence in talking about world events. I was in turn surprised by my apolitical environment—instead of talking about elections or learning about historical landmarks, my friends and I were watching reality TV and crafting. I missed the people I had grown close to abroad. I missed the adventure of always having something new to explore. I had accomplished the goals I had set for myself and was perpetually wondering: now what?

What I didn’t realize was that the education I had begun abroad wasn’t finished yet! The skills and perspectives I gained during my program have translated into real opportunities here at home. I channeled the post-program boredom into increased involvement on campus, interning at the education abroad office, and joining a French conversation group. In class, I’m speaking up in a new way that’s informed by experience. I’ve also remembered that watching TV and crafting are fun. They are needed breaks from the busy American lifestyle to which I’ve returned!

Even though each of us molds our time abroad differently, we all experience a time of transition when we return home. You’ll probably ask yourself more than once: now what? The lesson I’ve learned and the challenge I now present to you are one and the same. Instead of asking, “now what,” first stop and appreciate the moment you are in, the goals you have achieved, and all you have done to get here. Then ask yourself, “What’s next?”

Photo courtesy of Kelsey Dillon.

_____________________________________________________________________

Kelsey Dillon is senior at the University of Kentucky studying Anthropology and French. Kelsey participated in the ISEP Exchange-Aix-Marseille Universite program in Spring 2015.