On each of our trips, we spend class time in our last week together preparing our students for potential encounters upon coming home that could pose some difficulty or confusion, big and small. Friends not understanding how great the trip really was…friends getting sick and tired of hearing about how great the trip really was…the once beloved Greek restaurant down the street simply not cutting it anymore…returning to the old ways of the dreaded “traditional classroom setting” that, for so long, was replaced by a hands-on learning experience…although the growth experience is happening during the trip itself, it seems that our students realize its impact once they’ve returned home. We like to call it “Post Traumatic Study Abroad.” Community Leader Courtney Ergen, quite the world traveler (sit down and talk with her if you haven’t already…she’s one of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet!) has written a guest post for you depicting what it’s really like coming home from one of our study abroad experiences, based on her experience as a LEAD Cape Town student this past summer.
Post Traumatic Study Abroad
By: Courtney Ergen
I have traveled to over 50 countries, so I’ve done this a lot, but somehow coming home after being abroad never gets easier. Of course, it is great to be back in the comforts of your own house: your own bed and your mom’s home cooking. That being said, there is always something missing because a part of you is still in that location you just left. This is what happens when you study abroad, but on an even greater scale.
After spending five incredible weeks in Cape Town, I left little parts of my heart everywhere. Parts are in the little kids and families we served in the incredible community of Sir Lowry’s Pass. A little bit of me is still on Table Mountain where I conquered my fear of heights by abseiling over 112 meters off the side of the mountain, and spent one of my favorite afternoons with my best friends. The other piece of me is still on the highest bungee bridge in the world, Bloukrans Bridge, after I jumped over 700 feet. Another part of me stays at Old Biscuit Mill with the lady who makes the best “American style” mini pancakes that I ate every Saturday for five weeks straight. Perhaps the biggest part of my heart, though, lives in the friends and relationships I built while studying abroad.
On this trip, we as students were in an environment that encouraged vulnerability. We shared our life stories, telling our biggest struggles and triumphs. There was no need to impress anyone—we could just be ourselves. Dinner lasted hours some nights simply because we had more to talk about, and we all began to appreciate this quality time. Consequently, I made some of the most authentic connections on this trip to South Africa, because of how we all shared our hearts with each other.
It may be obvious that after living with these incredible people for five weeks, the hardest part about coming home was leaving these newfound friends. Coming home to my friends in America was comforting, but after being abroad, something in my soul changed. I longed for more thrilling adventures, and I craved real conversation that was not diluted with people checking their Instagram likes or Facebook notifications. Being away from technology and having to be present with those around me was the best part of the trip, and it was difficult to come back into a world ruled by technology.
While abroad, I learned so many things about other cultures, how to live in the moment, and how to interact with people who are different than myself, and returning home was somewhat challenging. People did not always understand my new outlook on foreign cultures. Also, my friends and family did not realize how just five weeks could change my life so drastically, and it was tough to explain. However, I have found that I can keep my experience alive through my friends and the Big Blue Book, which contains all of our readings and quotes about travel. I have read and reread the book to remind me of how to be a better global citizen and use the things I learned abroad at home. Flipping through the pages transports me back to my time in Cape Town, and it keeps my memories close. As for my friends—they mend the empty spaces of my heart that belong to South Africa by keeping in touch and reminiscing about the precious memories we made. My favorite quote from the Big Blue Book is “Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.” I use this daily to inspire me to live a bigger and better life, and I owe this to my experience with Go Global.
A question from us to you: what are some challenges you have faced when returning home after traveling abroad? The more we travel and grow, the more we realize that the PTSA is quite limitless. Even some of the simplest things can become complex to us once we’ve seen them through a different lens: the lens of the broadened perspective of culture and the world. But instead of being frustrated at these challenges, which is our first (and our natural) reaction, we realize that we’re actually grateful for them. If we didn’t change the way we felt about things from home, we wouldn’t have ever learned how to use our critical thinking skills, our compassionate hearts, and our understanding, accepting minds to accept that the world is always changing, right before our eyes. The opportunity to travel is just one example to experience this and help us conquer it firsthand.
After reading Courtney’s post…here’s a related post for you: What It Really Means to Leave a Piece of Your Heart Somewhere. Where is your heart, and how has it shaped your mind? Food for thought.
-Anna and the Go Global team