What Next?

In less than two weeks my study abroad experience will be over and I will be on a plane back to my life in the United States. Back to work. Back to school. No more Riva San Vitale. No more villa.

I do not mean to be depressing because I am, in fact, quite excited about going back home. However, I am worried about the implications of returning home to family and friends that may not be interested and will not understand my experiences during the past 3.5 months of being gone. I have lived in Switzerland and visited seven European countries. I have struggled with the hard questions in life (what is truth?). I have learned more about myself than any other semester. I have become a part of a whole new family – the PGS family.

But all of this means nothing to those outside.

Even before we left for Switzerland, Dr. Papillon warned us that we were going to encounter this issue. As the date approaches closer and closer I am becoming more worried about integrating back into life at home and Virginia Tech. How will my untraditional study abroad experience fit in with my old life? How do I take what I have learned about the world and myself and bring it back? How do I express to those around me the changes I have undergone?

Although I am still struggling with all these questions, I know that having the PGS family back at Virginia Tech will be a great help and support. One practical way in which I hope to bring back my experience is through the group project work from this semester. Learning about human trafficking and meeting those that are helping to combat and prevent the issue has inspired me to make other college students aware of the prevalance of the issue. Group project work is more than just an excuse to vacation around Europe, it has been a life-changing experience that has allowed me to look at the world through a new lens.

But all of this means nothing to those outside.

One of the largest lessons I have begun to learn is that an experience will be whatever you make of it. With the passing of a PGS family member and friend, J.J. Stinson, I have struggled this past week in understanding why things happen. It is never easy to say good-bye, but I realized that it does not have to be a good-bye. As long as I hold on to the great memories with J.J., he will never be gone. I will forever remember his kind smile, his graying head (filled with wisdom), his laughter, his melodious voice, and his honest friendship. I am beginnnig to realize that the same applies for my experiences this semester. Although the travelling may be done, the family and conversation will carry-on.

But all of this means nothing to those outside.

My goal going back is not necessarily to make my experience mean something to others, but to be able to positively impact others and myself through my experience. How this will exactly look I am not sure, but I know that in the process I will try to evaluate myself more often and stay true to who I am and have become while being open to the ideas and views of others. I will try to take this experience and use it to become a better global citizen and leader (although I am still working on these definitions).

So bare with me!

3 thoughts on “What Next?

  1. Well put. Also, from others’ past experience, one of the first things to look out for is that soon after returning, you will be physically very tired.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Karli. I have been struggling with how exactly I can relate this experience to my family and friends at home. I will be sad to leave my family here though. It’s not a goodbye but a see you later. I look forward to the meetings with my PGS family in the future.

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