Coming back from a semester abroad is fraught with difficulties and joys. One of the hardest things is being asked: “What was your favorite part?”
I spent three months in Belfast, Northern Ireland, living with 19 other JBU students. I traveled all over the country, spent a weekend in London, and then went to Edinburgh, Scotland on my own for five days at the end of the semester.
How am I supposed to choose my favorite part? I loved all of it! My favorite part was, quite literally, absolutely everything.
During the semester we were privileged to have JBU professor Tracy Balzer come speak to us for a weekend. She encouraged us to think about what Ireland meant to us, warning us that most people wouldn’t care or understand how much it was going to change us, and that we needed to reflect on what that experience meant to us.
Even if you’re not planning to study abroad, you are going to have a lot of different experiences while at a university.
Inevitably, you’re going to come back from a summer job or a weekend retreat and you’ll only get asked how it went, not what it meant.
Most people will only care for thirty seconds before moving on to the next topic. This hurts, especially when something changes you so deeply.
So, what did Ireland mean to me? It meant freedom, courage, and a chance to get to know people I never would have known otherwise. It meant the chance to discover myself, to realize that I don’t like cities and that I love to hike, it confirmed my desire to live abroad, taught me to seek people out and to not settle for the status quo.
The next time you come back from a powerful experience, sit down and ask yourself, “What did it mean?” Try to ask friends this as well, rather than just the obligatory, “How was it?”
The answers might surprise you.