The first weeks of a post-abroad semester are filled with friends, acquaintances, and peripheral figures asking about one’s time spent outside of his or her homeland. These questions, prompted by genuine interest or social protocol, must be answered in the same way. As the semester deepens and the subject runs dry, talk of abroad eventually recedes into an occasional conversation piece that one might timidly reference, fully aware of the social dangers of frequenting the topic. But, for a time, in those first few weeks, one is forced to consider his or her tenure overseas. If just for the sake of responding adequately, an evaluation must be made and several memorable experiences be brought forth as evidence.
I have two distinct responses to retrospection about my experiences. The first is a gut reaction. It comes quickly, unconsciously, and without any depth of thought. Certain keywords such as “France,” “study abroad,” or anything else that may pertain to my time in Paris can trigger memories and subsequent positive reactions to those memories. Much like a reflex, the positive associations flow quickly and without any deliberate intention to call them to mind. This reaction influences my responses to questions posed in passing or to those whose interest I judge to be cursory.
The second reaction is a much more conscious and intentional consideration. Prompted either by perceived genuine interest from another or my own casual reflection, lengthy consideration produces a much more neutral, calculated response. This often leads me to perceive the experience as “useful,” and one unlikely to be highlighted in any study abroad pamphlets in the near future. Importantly, though, this response is notably different from the first.
The second reaction is closer to the mark, however. During my stay in Paris, I was fairly dedicated to conscientiously observing my experiences and regularly recording my reactions to my abroad quotidian. By the end of the semester, my notes showed that I was very ready to come home and that I had been somewhat disappointed with the time already spent. But, this remains something very unknown to my reflex response, despite having arrived at this second conclusion a multitude of times. The first reaction, positive in its outlook, has stayed. . . .