Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The NeverEnding Story: Study Abroad Alumni Style

As an ambassador, the camaraderie never ends
For any student that has ever studied abroad, there usually comes a time upon returning to your home country that you stop and wonder: "What now?' Leaving behind all the friends, experiences and moments you'll never forget can be one of the hardest times for a study abroad returnee. You can't help but wish for one more day--one more minute--to absorb the culture of a foreign country that has become less "foreign" and more like home. You spend your last waking moments trying to soak it all in, knowing that eventually you'll have to pack your suitcase and board that departing plane.

That being said, It's natural to experience the "what now" moment upon returning home--and oftentimes it occurs more than once. Fortunately, the study abroad experience doesn't have to end just because you're no longer abroad. Most, if not all, programs provide numerous resources for alumni to stay involved and continue to make a difference. Such is the case with becoming an alumni ambassador for the university/institution you studied abroad with. Not only is it a way of giving back to those who made your dreams a reality, but it also turns the page to a new set of opportunities.

Not so very long ago, an email showed up in my inbox from the alumni team at my study abroad university, The University of Stirling. Within its contents was an invitation to join a team of other Stirling alumni who were interested in acting as a "go-to" resource for everything from offering informal advice about the university to coordinating and organizing alumni activities. As I tend to think about my time at Stirling AT LEAST once a day, I was instantly drawn to the offer. 

If you really think about it, study abroad programs and the universities that host them wouldn't be the same without the support and volunteerism of alumni. Think back to when you were a prospective study abroad student. Who did you rely on (besides your fabulous advisors of course) to get the real details of a certain country, university or local student hangout? Who knew the best football match to attend or historical site to see better than those who had actually experienced them? Without all the alumni passing on their knowledge and imparting advice, the study abroad experience simply wouldn't be the same.

Being able to speak as an "expert" also has it's personal appeal. Like I mentioned earlier, returning home is typically harder than it is to leave for your time abroad. Having any sort of connection that ties you to your experiences  and memories makes the transition easier to adjust to. Is it any wonder why university study abroad offices are composed of alumni? Not really--we're all in search of the same internationally-fused refuge where it's okay to start every sentence with "When I was in...." After all, when you're surrounded by others doing the exact same thing, there's no question about it being a study abroad haven.

I'm finally in the process of tying together the final details for my own alumni event here in San Francisco, and I can't tell you how amazing of an experience it's been so far. How could I have guessed that I would be communicating with alumni of Stirling as far back as the 80's and 90's? There are so many different stories to share of the same place that it's a constantly enriching process. So you see, the study abroad journey doesn't really ever end. Not if you don't want it to. When you live with a study abroad state of mind, or simply by acting as an alumni ambassador, you come to better appreciate every experience and interaction. Don't waste another moment wondering "what now?" Get involved, give back and start writing the pages to your own never-ending story...study abroad style of course ;)

Is it just me...or does it smell like team spirit?