Repacking Your Mental Suitcase


Only someone who’s been on a program abroad can attest to the frustration that comes with sitting on your bedroom floor, holding a hairdryer and trying to decide what’s worse- starting a fire in a foreign outlet or letting your hair air-dry for 5 months (hint: it’s for sure the first one…probably). Many of you know that feeling that seems to sneak up when you’re about to leave for a trip abroad. You’ve barely started emptying your top drawer into your suitcase and you already feel like you’ve forgotten something. Jeans, t-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, swimsuits, and scarves cover the floor of your room as you try to pack three seasons into one bag (which eventually turns into two).

The best part about this feeling is that it eventually subsides. That day you lug your over-packed suitcase into your new room is the day you gain another “home”. Those feelings of anxiety and worry become pure excitement, with just a tiny ounce of fear (the good kind). You explore new places, make new friends, try new foods, and experience new adventures. But most importantly, you fall in love. You fall for that new feeling you get when you step out your front door and know exactly where you’re going. You fall for the smell of the air in your host country and the food at that local restaurant you’ve come to love. Without even realizing it, you’ve made a whole new life in a whole new place.

What they don’t tell you is that you’re going to have to pack these memories up when you leave and they may just not fit in your suitcase. Not only do you have to jam that sweatshirt you never wore back into your bag, but you’ll also have to find room for all those adventures. The night I left France felt like a blur. I had stupidly booked myself a red-eye flight and, even worse, had decided to pack that night. I said a tearful goodbye to my friends as we parted ways after a farewell dinner at our favorite restaurant. The moment I got home to pack, I realized the shampoo that wouldn’t fit back into my suitcase was not the thing I was going to miss most.

When you go abroad, you bring back something that you can carry with you for the rest of your life: experience. I’m not talking about what I learned in the classroom (although that was important too). I’m talking about life experience. You may not be able to bring home that coffee shop you loved, but you’ll always remember that feeling you got when you found your way back there by memory. It might take a while to list all the things you might bring home with you, so here are the top five:

  1. Confidence: There’s nothing quite like newfound confidence. You may not realize this while you’re abroad, but you certainly will when you return home. Travelling has taught you that you can do something ridiculous in public (like accidentally say something inappropriate in another language or slip and fall as you’re rushing to catch a train) and no one will care. You suddenly feel totally  comfortable doing something outside the norm, because you’ve managed to fend for yourself in a country other than your own and no one can take that away from you.
  1. Stories: One thing you find out when you come home is that your stories are for you. You’ll feel excited to tell your family and friends about your adventures and they’ll be eager to hear them, but eventually their questions will subside. When this happens, you can take comfort in the fact that your stories will remain yours. You’ll be able to think back on your time abroad and use the experiences to spark new adventures in new places.
  1. Open-mindedness: Experiencing new countries, cultures, and languages broadens your worldview and can instill a sense of global citizenship. Travelling can make even the most close-minded person feel open to trying and experiencing new things.
  1. Patience: You learn patience pretty quick when your train is an hour late and you’re about to miss a flight or you get to work on time and your boss isn’t there yet. Life passes at different rates around the world and realizing this will make you discover that it can stand to pass a little slower sometimes.
  1. Independence: In my personal opinion, this is one of the most important ones. It’s exhilarating and empowering. You’ve done what many people haven’t. You made the courageous choice to live in a new city where you didn’t know anyone. Few people have done this and few people can feel the pride and independence you now feel as a result.

Five months prior, I had packed my old life into a bag and now I discovered that I couldn’t do the same with my new life. I couldn’t pack the places or the feelings that I had fallen in love with. My bags, now repacked, suddenly felt heavier. What I know now was that I was bringing home a lot more than I knew. Every traveler brings home stories, memories, friendships, and most importantly, an unquenchable thirst to keep adventuring.

What did you bring home from your program abroad? Share your story with us below!


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