Plenty of Irish songs take as their theme a longing to return to that land from which, for whatever reason, one has had to depart. Though my departure does not by any means measure up to the sorts of circumstances the songs get written about, I can certainly understand wanting to go back. It’s a funny thing, though; by the end of my time in Dublin, I was in many ways ready to go home—ready to trade concrete for cornfields, busses for my bicycle, the unabating noise of the city for the soft evening chorus of summer bugs that reminds me of my central Pennsylvania childhood. The thing is, when you spend time abroad, you find yourself caught in a sort of limbo that you can’t exactly resolve by snapping your fingers and taking the whole Atlantic (or whichever other) Ocean out of the equation. I would love to get back to Ireland—I'm sure I’ll find a reason and a way someday—but I could say the same about home when I’m elsewhere. Here, things aren’t ‘gas’ or ‘grand,’ and any homophonetic ‘craic’ you’ll find isn’t the sort you’d like to get involved with, but you also haven’t got to watch out for seagulls eyeing your food or welcoming you to Dublin by dropping an indelible souvenir on your shoulder (I was maybe five minutes off the airport bus). Sure, you’d miss the seagulls, though, and hearing turns of phrase and language patterns like the first half of this sentence. So I’m rambling through bits of memories as I write this, which I suppose is an important point in itself.
Studying and other experiences abroad are almost always transformative in some way or another, but there’s further worth to be had in reflecting upon those experiences. I remember a high school English teacher of mine who looked back with regret upon the fact that he had come home from travelling abroad and, when asked about his experiences, found himself at a loss for words beyond “cool,” and, I kid you not, “groovy.” Granted, sometimes that’s all the more some people are looking to hear when they ask you about your time abroad, and some of them don’t ask more engaging questions, but there’s something to be said for reflecting upon what it is you have gained or learned from such an experience, in what ways it has changed you, how your time abroad will inform what you do back home. Even if you were only abroad for a few days, and even if your experience was totally “groovy,” man, there’s definitely more you can say, more you got out of it. Even if nobody’s asking, take the time to reflect for your own sake. Don’t just come home, move on, and let your experiences gather cobwebs at the back of your mind. You went abroad for a reason—did you fulfil that purpose? Did you exceed it? How? Did your expectations not match with the reality you encountered? How? Why? You don’t need prescribed questions, and you don’t have to sit any sort of written exam (I hope), but, if you continue to reflect upon and draw from your experiences abroad, you’ll find the value of such experiences continues well after you’ve readjusted to life at home.
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<p>My name is Sam Wherley. I grew up in central Pennsylvania, but I have had the good fortune to study and travel abroad several times, including two semesters and a Fulbright in Spain as well as trips with my college choir and family through Europe and elsewhere. I am now pursuing a Master's of International Affairs at Penn State University and I am thrilled to be in Dublin this summer with IES. I cannot overemphasize the value of my experiences abroad and the enthusiasm with which I encourage others to study abroad.</p>