01/13/2015 03:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Lost in Translation: Reflections on Returning

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Bags are packed, tears are shed, and the bus slowly drives away. You look around, wondering if you appreciated this city enough. Did you breathe enough in when you were worrying about tests? Did you make enough friends with neighbors? Did your Spanish really get any better?

You've felt homesick, lost, lonely, excited, comfortable, and a whole other array of emotions that could fill a dictionary.

You can converse with locals, cook native dishes (or at least try to) , and navigate the streets like a pro. You take siestas, know the best places for a chocolate croissant, and have seen more places and sights than you ever dreamed you could.

Suddenly, your perspective doesn't involve just you anymore. It isn't about social status, what you wear to class, or impressing that cute boy in class. Because you've seen that the world involves a lot more than you and your problems.

You've grown in ways you can't even imagine. You become more self-assured, more confident because you have already lived in another country on your own and realize you can do this. You don't need your mom or your safe group of friends to rely on. All you have ever needed is what you already have.

And then suddenly, as time goes, the semester flashes by. You arrived and then suddenly, you are leaving. It seems like you have been here forever or for a day, all at the same time. Your foot touches American soil, yet your host father still sends you selfies and you mourn over the fact that there is no Plaza Mayor to meet up in or pastelerias (bakeries) on every corner. When flight attendants and waiters ask you for what you want, you reply with "Vale" (ok) or "Gracias" and they look at you strangely.

Just when culture shock first hit you, cultural withdrawal takes over. You are consumed by it and it is forever embedded in the back of your mind.

Your heart hurts but you know those memories stay with you.

Your experience changed everything but you know when you return, you will be immersed in the regular busyness of everyday American life. So here are three things to take with you after your adventures overseas.

1. Communicate
Whether you lived with roommates or a host family abroad, try to keep those relationships intact. They will be the only ones who understand your perspective or have shared your experiences. To this day, my host family texts and sends me photos. It's also a brilliant way for you to practice your language skills.

2. Record
Finish downloading those long-lost photos from Dublin, Barcelona, or Florence. Write journal entries about your experiences or save those Vatican tickets. Scrapbook or make a photo journal. Do something so that you won't struggle to remember.

3. Grow
Going abroad should be just the beginning of your growth, not the end. Hopefully, you have traveled enough outside of your comfort zone and aren't afraid to try new foods, explore, or meet new people. Continue to pick exotic, interesting locales on your Pinterest board for travel. Try that new Indian restaurant that just opened in your city. Maybe you can even freshen up on your Italian, Mandarin or French by finding a cultural group on campus or a faculty member at your university.

Maybe from being abroad, you can walk around campus and smile, knowing you have seen places beyond it. Maybe you can add "independence," and "self-reliance" to your list of personality characteristics. You will throw out the phrase, "when I was abroad," like it's a natural part of your language.

Most of all, you can think back on your life and see that for a time, you were part of a big world out there and this is just the start of really living in it.


Just the beginning of my worldwide adventures...