Studying Abroad & Paying It Forward

by Megan Lee

You just returned from your study abroad trip, and you can say with confidence that it was even MORE amazing than you had anticipated. You feel a renewed sense of strength, clarity, motivation, and joie de vivre.

Since you're brimming with joy and near bursting with love for your time away, why not make something good out of your study abroad alumni badge? Give back to the international education community that you have benefited from so greatly; if you’re not sure where to start, read on!

THINK BACK A BIT

Let's take a journey of the mind together. Remember a few months ago when you started the study abroad program process? You went to a call out meeting with your campus study abroad advisor and were immediately whisked away with daydreams of lattes on your study breaks in Italy, climbing the Great Wall of China, studying Swahili, or living with a family of four while taking classes in Peru.

You finally zeroed in on your destination of choice, but then you had to sift through dozens of different study abroad program options and providers. You leafed through brochure after brochure, and were overwhelmed by all the options. However, through a little (okay, a lot of) research and some inspiring conversations, you were able to finally make your decision, and dang, you're sure as heck glad you did.

NOW PAY IT FORWARD

It's not hard to revisit the difficulties of navigating the study abroad process because the obstacles were real. Why not do the world a favor and offer your now-expert knowledge to prospective study abroad students?

Here are a few ways to get involved and pay it forward:

1. Complete your study abroad program evaluations.

I know it may seem like just another silly questionnaire or survey, but the evaluations at the end of your study abroad program are important. Your university or program provider enthusiastically seek critical feedback in order to continue improving their course and program offerings. Time to think about how they can make your program better. No perspective is more valuable in identifying areas for refinement than that of program alumni.

Lecture class in the Middle East

2. Write a review of your experience online.

There are a multitude of websites where you can write a review about your study abroad program experience. Avoid using blanket statements, such as "It was the best trip ever!" or "I learned so much!" While those points are valid, they start to read a bit like noise. Highlight key details that made it the best trip ever, and talk more about how or why you learned so much.

Don't forget to point out any shortcomings in your program, again this is your chance to provide constructive feedback. Nothing is perfect, except for maybe pizza, and future study abroad students deserve to read an honest assessment of what they're in for.

3. Offer to volunteer at your study abroad office.

If you are looking to ease your transition back into life on campus, get involved with your university study abroad office. The need for student volunteers varies from place to place, but we would hedge our bets that you could be useful as a student mentor or as a presenter on your personal experiences studying abroad.

Have you already forgotten that awesome conversation you had with that upperclassman that finally made you want to take the leap of study abroad faith? Well, now you can fill that role!

Try to score academic credit for your volunteer hours or turn your volunteership into an internship. Work with your university faculty to keep building on the skills you developed while you were abroad. Who knows, maybe it will be your first taste of working in an industry you love...

4. Get involved with your study abroad program provider.

Most study abroad program providers (including Academic Programs International and International Studies Abroad) have a number of opportunities available for returnee students. You can become a campus ambassador, get involved in their alumni programming, or share your testimony candidly with prospective students!

Get decked out in some study abroad shwag and inspire youngins' to follow in your well-traveled footsteps.

Asian students reading a textbook in a park

5. Post your pictures and finish your blog.

Even if it is a little dusty after a few weeks of neglect, finish strong with your study abroad blog. Don't skim over the details or fork out another "Sorry I've been so absent..." post. Write and savor the details from your life in a foreign land. Every last minute of it.

But don't just stop there. Your photos capture the experience even when words fail. Just a quick “1-2-click” of the upload button and you're sure to make your network drool (and maybe feel the kick in the pants to start planning their own study abroad adventure).

6. Write for a travel website.

Many youth travel websites seek out fresh ideas and perspectives from recent student travelers. In fact, you can become a better writer and continue processing your international experiences by applying for the GoAbroad Travel Writer's Academy, a six month online journalism course designed with YOU, post study-abroad rock star student, in mind.

By writing for a travel website, you can extend your reach beyond your circle of friends or university peers in the world wide web. Your experience has afforded you an expertise on a number of subjects, and all it takes is you putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for strangers near and far to be inspired by your intrepid attitude about traveling and studying abroad.

YA DONE GOOD KID

Not only will you rack up a serious bank of good study abroad karma, your acts of paying it forward will, more importantly, contribute to a wider effort of cultivating a society of more globalized citizens.

Studying abroad seems daunting (and a bit scary) at first, but with the help of tried and true study abroad vets like yourself, future students' potential worries will vanish faster than you can say "best semester ever."