This past weekend I went to a Study Abroad Returnee conference in Boston, and it was just what I needed.
On the entire 3 1/2-hour drive up to Boston from NY with my friend Kerianne (fellow API Peer Mentor), we did not listen to a single song. We talked literally the entire time and had so much much more to say by the end of the drive.
What’s crazy about our friendship is that we have actually only met in person one other time–in Austin during internship training. From this one friendship and this one weekend trip we took together, I have learned more than I ever expected to. We are the same in many ways and yet the life she has led is worlds different from mine. Having her as a friend is helpful in the sense that I can learn so much from her, and so much with her.
What did I learn this weekend?
A new definition of “home”
At the conference, we participated in a session titled “The Only Constant In Life Is Change”. Study abroad alumni talked about how the study abroad experience changed them, and what their experience meant in many contexts. There were so many thoughts that I related to, like the feeling upon returning home that everything had changed in me as a person, but nothing had changed in the place where I left.
The definition of “home” came up, and one particular answer really opened my eyes.
“Home is a place where you grow. And you can reach a point where you are done growing.”
The student who said that is going back to live in her host country, Spain, after graduation in May. She feels as though she did not do all of the growing that she needed to in her short time there. It’s really incredible to have heard what her perception and definition of “home” was because I had never thought of it in that sense before. I have always known that home is not one single place, and that it has to do with the people around us, but I never thought about why or how exactly my role made a place “home”.
Even while we are all always growing, we can grow in different ways
In the same discussion at the conference, a student opened up and said that when she got home, she felt like nothing had changed except for her. Everyone was worried about the same old things, and it was as if no one had anything new to share while she had hours and hours of stories to tell.
We talked about how, unfortunately, experiences separate us from people–whether the experiences are travel or not. Students often come home from studying abroad with a newfound sense and perspective on life and what it means to be alive. Just like people who like animals tend to befriend other people who like animals, and people who like computers tend to befriend other people who like computers, people who travel tend to gravitate toward fellow travelers.
Growing apart from people can happen for an infinite number of reasons, but study abroad students know that this happens especially when one begins to have different life experiences from others. The passion that we travel-addicts have is undeniably contagious. We are relentless when it comes to seeing the world and passing the passion on, but of all people I think travelers are the most accepting and the most open. I think we recognize that although there are differences between each of us–travel experience, likes/dislikes, interests, backgrounds–there is nothing that should keep two people from getting along.
We must maintain a sense of adventure in all environments
To help us cope with this falsity that home is boring and slow, or that life abroad is better, someone at the conference told us that there is adventure all around us, no matter where we are, whether we are somewhere new or familiar.
I grew up right outside of New York City and I still have yet to go to the top of the Empire State Building, or see the Statue of Liberty. Why is that? There are millions of people who have seen more of this city than I have…and I’ve been here for more than half of my life.
Thinking about this gave me a much needed wake-up call. I think I need to be a tourist in my own city, every day. I’m sure there’s a cafe, bookstore, museum, etc. close by, where I could do a little growing and a lot of learning.
Keeping a sense of adventure in the place where you are is just as important as finding a new sense of adventure in the place where you want to be. Kerianne told me about her travel writing class, and how the professor always says,
“You don’t have to get on a plane to travel.”
I think we (as a society) need to reevaluate what travel means, and look at it in a new way. Traveling means “making a journey”. That could be done without moving an inch. Our senses and our minds (and our technology!) can take us anywhere, and maybe traveling is more about the feeling we get when we discover new places and learn new things. Maybe it’s more about the concept of newness, and less about the place we go physically. Knowing that I can do it through my senses, I can be more grateful for travel and adventure–whether it be a physical journey near or far, or a completely imagined adventure.
I was driving in the car with my mom, and outside our window were mountains behind the river, and a sunset behind the mountains. She said, “You know, I always look at flights to Switzerland and think about what the scenery looks like, but look–it’s just as beautiful right here.”
I’m on the way to finding what makes me happy
It is mind blowing how constantly ecstatic I feel whenever I’m doing anything related to international education/study abroad. The stories, the people, the constant learning, and the genuine interest I have encountered in this field are unlike any other. I am fully aware of lucky I am to have had the opportunity to go abroad and not only to have caught the travel bug, but to have also had the international education open mindset instilled in me at such a young age.
There are certain subjects and fields which I have entertained to be where my future career might lie, but I think I’m discovering that I don’t need to think about it so much. I believe that humans, sometimes subconsciously, drift toward the direction of their passions.
In the beginning, I didn’t know how much international education would influence me or mean to me. I became a Peer Mentor with API because I wanted to tell people about my study abroad experience. At the time, I don’t think I even realized how much my time abroad changed me. It continues to change me for the better every single day, and I think my undying interest in this field has fueled that.
Maybe the way to be happy and stay happy is simply to share the things that make us glad to be alive. That seems like a ridiculously obvious statement, but every day I see and hear people talking so negatively about how they spend their time.
It feels like most people do things that make them unhappy because they think in the end, they will be rewarded. But there is no guarantee of that at all, so I am making it a point to consciously move toward happiness by doing things that make me happy–every step of the way. And I am well on my way.