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There and Back Again: Sharing Your Travel Abroad Experience

November 19, 2012

Times Square after presenting my research paper on HIV and Traditional Healing

There is nothing like coming home after a long trip. Whether you are overjoyed to see your family or sad to leave new friends behind, the adventure is not over yet. Over the next few days/weeks/months, you will spend hours rehashing your trip to friends, parents, grandparents, acquaintances on the street, peers in crowded hallways. No matter what your experience, one question remains, “How was it?”

In my experience, when someone asks you “how was your trip?” you have about 5 minutes. Longer with family members, significant others, but for the most part “it was great!” is all you have time to squeeze out before seeming long-winded.

My problem was when anyone asked, “How was Africa?” I would spend my 5-10 minutes explaining what was wrong with that question to begin with (ie. I actually went to Kenya, not Africa, Africa is not a country…) and by the time I started to divulge into how it actually was, the eyes were already glazed over. My friend Aaron went on a two year missionary trip to Arizona and experienced the same thing, where “how was it?” referred to the last two years of his life.  How do you answer the question, “How were the last two years of your life?”. While you might have spent weeks or months abroad, you will not have that same amount of time for cathartic conversations back at home.

So what can you do to reflect and make the most of your trip even after your story abroad has come to a close?

Write about It:

The most obvious answer to this would be to start a blog, as Quinn and I have done at The Passport Epilogues. However if you do not feel like you have the time or enough material, consider being a guest writer. Many blogs, including ours, welcome guest posts to provide new dynamic angles, cultural encounters the writers haven’t had, and it’s a perfect way highlight a great experience or epiphany. Other sites will publish articles about your travel experience and pay you too! Matador Network will pay you 25 dollars or more for your unique travel experiences. Soon you will have a captive audience and a little extra cash. Barrel Hopping is another website that host frequent contests for travel stories and photos. The winning story and photo gets 50 dollars and its based off social media shares and likes. Not only will this pass your story or photo further, you could win money to keep on adventuring!

 Find Like-Minded People:

While friends and family are the obvious choice, there are other people who might understand your experiences than they do. One incredibly useful resource I discovered was my professors. After returning from Kenya, I contacted a few of my old professors who worked in the fields of cultural psychology, international volunteering, and mental health, and asked if I could come in and speak to them about my experiences and focus my thoughts. Not only were they helpful in asking detailed questions I hadn’t thought of before, they were enthusiastic to discuss something other than yesterday’s pop quiz. These professors are great references and good friends, and I even ended up going to New York to present my research because of a conversation with one of my psychology professors.

Professors or others in a teaching role can also provide a medium for you to share experiences with your peers. Ask to help lead a facilitated discussion, seminar, or do short presentation for a relevant class. It’s great experience and will give you an academic outlet to share your experience. This is the same for local organizations and non-profits that would benefit from a new experience or a fresh take on a subject.

Think about It:

If you only have 5 minutes to share your experience or make an impression, think about what you want that person to walk away with. This is particularly important if you visit a country where we already have set perceptions of here in the USA, such as Kenya. So when people asked, “How was it? Did you see a giraffe?” I was sure to say, “Yes, but actually the best part of my trip was meeting the people there! I learned a lot about global citizenship and the impacts of international volunteering!” Not the most exciting answer but I’d rather people not walk away with the idea that Kenya is worth visiting because of giraffes. So think about the best experience you had, a life lesson you learned, or a single story that sums up what the trip meant to you and what you learned. Make those minutes count.

 What was it like coming back home for you? How did you share your experiences with family and friends?

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