“When I was abroad…”: building together moments to form a complete experience.

This post comes to us from Grenoble Alumna, and current API Global Leader, Amelia Bowen from American University. Interested in joining API’s Global Leadership Academy? Submit your application here! Questions? Email [email protected] for more information.

Hundreds of sheep getting corralled through the streets of Annecy on the Transhumance (the bringing of livestock down from the mountains for the winter season)

Back now in the U.S., it’s a line I find myself saying so frequently its become a joke among my friends: “When I was abroad…”. Sometimes, it seems as if everything I say starts with this phrase, that anything happening in my life now can be rooted back to or linked with the months I passed in France. I have a thousand stories, a thousand unique moments that stand out on their own but also work into the overall experience of my trip.

The question I get most often is so broad it’s almost impossible to answer. People will typically ask something general: “how was your semester?” “What was your favorite moment?” “Did you eat a lot of bread?” You’ll get these too, and they are so hard to answer. My semester? It was fabulous. My favorite moment? I can’t choose just one. And the bread? Yes, I ate a lot. It’s easier to tell stories, snippets of time that are funny or poignant, but they can’t capture your whole experience.

A visit to Chenonceau, a Cheateau in the Loire Valley

If you don’t want to boil down your time abroad to a collection of moments, it’s important to reflect on your experience as a whole. Ask yourself those big questions: how am I different now than I was 4 months ago? What is one big lesson I learned? While the moments are key, let then me indicative of a larger message, be it cultural, personal, or academic. This wide reflection has been fostered for me through my participation in the Global Leadership Academy, which, through API, focuses on the return experiences of students. I’ve gotten to compare my semester with those of other students, and to voice collectively how our time in foreign places changed us. It is these big questions with big answers that have truly helped me to best remember my experience, and to share it with others most effectively.

Not everyone gets to go abroad. It’s a gift – a beautiful moment in your personal history that resonates with you forever. You can’t live it over and over again (as you might want to), but make sure to revisit it. Look at old pictures, tickets stubs and journal entries. Reach out to friends you made, either Americans on your program or International students you met along the way. Share your story – even if “When I was abroad…” becomes a joke with your friends back home – but don’t forget to reflect on your experience in its entirety, and how it changed you for the better. 


Night kayaking down the Isere River in Grenoble (with torches!)


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