CEA interviewed an Aix-en-Provence alumnae to get a sense of how study or internship abroad programs impact the career success, personal and professional development of post-international education students. Read Part 1 below.
First, I want to give you a little insight into my background, and how studying abroad was the perfect storm to set my career on track. I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. It’s an actually-kind-of-big city right on the border of the U.S. and Mexico—just across the river from Ciudad Juarez. I think my fascination with crossing borders and being immersed in new cultures stems from the accessibility of those experiences from a young age. Literally right in my own back yard! (Well, more or less.)
Then, as a teen I set my sights on a high school summer study abroad program in New Zealand and the rest, as they say, is history. I was hooked. Cut to: my semester abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France with CEA, going to the Philippines with GoAbroad, a solo road trip in Iceland, and getting TEFL certified in the Czech Republic.
|A peek down a random street in Aix-en-Provence, France|
Defining moments abroad
CEA: What’s a memory that stood out from your time abroad?
During our fall break, I went on a solo trip to Germany. I spent four days in Berlin and four days in Frankfurt before returning home to Aix. I went to museums, I hit every popular burger joint, ate currywurst, drank good German beer with an old family friend, but most importantly, I had a world shifting experience—you know, the kind that’s promised on every study abroad program.
My grandmother on my dad’s side (my Omi), was a German Jew. She lived in Frankfurt until she was 14 and then she fled Germany on the Kindertransport. Shortly after she left, while trying to secure their own visas, her family was deported to concentration camps. She never saw them again, but I grew up hearing wonderful stories about my Omi’s mother, father, and sister.
A big part of my trip to Germany was to reconnect with her past—my family’s past. In Frankfurt there’s a memorial near the Jewish history museum surrounding the walls of the Old Jewish Cemetery, and along the walls are plaques with the names of Jews deported from Frankfurt. I followed the names in alphabetical order until I found the names of my great grandparents and great aunt.
|Close up of my great-grandfather's plaque that I'd put a stone on (Izaak Wertheim)|
It wasn’t a big moment in terms of being loud or action packed, but standing in front of their names quietly, by myself, and putting a stone on their plaques was a huge, powerful moment for me. It’s such a testament to the truly meaningful experiences you can have on a study abroad program.
Coming home doesn’t get better, but it does get easier.
CEA: What helped you adjust to reverse culture shock and deal with re-entry?
Writing. Writing is what helped me make it through reverse culture shock and re-entry then, and it’s what continues to help me now. I came home and did everything I could to stay involved in my newfound community as a study abroad alum. Writing for GoAbroad and even “freelance” advising close friends to embark on their own experiences abroad took the edge off my discomfort in being home, while helping me channel that energy positively.
What helped me most was taking advantage of my university’s mental health resources. Colorado State (and I think most universities) have some level of free counseling service and being able to go and talk to someone about the experience and feeling out of place now that I was home helped me work through a lot of the frustration, anxiety, and sadness that comes along with re-entry.
|My room mate Sophie & I walking to the market on a Saturday|
My big piece of advice for returning students is not to be afraid to seek help, especially from professionals—or, in my case, graduate students who need clinical practice. It takes a huge weight off your shoulders, and feels a lot better than watching your friends and family’s eyes glaze over while you talk about your time abroad and your re-entry process.
Read more about what Erin is doing now in Part 2!Erin O. is a CEA Study Abroad alumnae, she studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence in the Fall of 2014. She is currently the Content Manager & Editor at GoAbroad.com.
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