by Vanessa Klosterman
It was my Semester at Sea orientation that an alumni added at the end of Q&A, “do something special in each country in order to collect memories, not cheap souvenir items”. Looking back, I am incredibly thankful for her words of wisdom.
The very definition of “souvenir” is a thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event. Yet, we tend to associate souvenirs with inexpensive trinkets from small tourist shops. Sure, a miniature version of La Sagrada Familia is cool, but does it compare to seeing your parents for the first time since leaving on your abroad journey?
Of course not. When I think of Barcelona, I think of my parents and our incredible six days together. I think of my mom and I getting lost in the gothic district, asking local after local for directions. When I think of Senegal, I remember the village I visited to discuss women’s rights. When I think of living on a ship for four months, I recall the first night’s storm, which prompted ship-wide seasickness. I think about watching the crew talent show, or eating dinner on the deck. I think about how different sunsets look from the middle of the ocean. I may not have SAS stickers, key chains, or water bottles, but I have memories. The very mention of curry sends me into nostalgia as I am reminded of our chef’s consistent use of the spice and the many dinners I spent with fellow SASers. It’s these memories that will stick with me longer than paraphernalia ever could.
Photographs, stories, and the people I met along my journey are constant reminders of my amazing study abroad experience. Some people photographed their CU flag in each country visited, some individuals covered their suitcases in patches, and some, including myself, carried journals where we could capture our emotions as we felt them and empathize with those feelings later on. There are countless ways to document and remember your journey abroad. Not into traditional journaling? Consider using a service like futureme.org or whensend.com to send a message to yourself long after you return to CU.
I think these types of “souvenirs” are more special to reflect on than a snow globe housing Big Ben, which always turns out to be less exciting than you thought as you forked over ten pounds. I’ve since read back on my journal and I am reminded more than ever before of my incredible international journey. Memories don’t get lost in boxes, thrown out, or given away. It’s these memories that shape your experience abroad and your life when you return. Even the most disastrous circumstances turn into wonderful memories and these memories become important life lessons.
So take my advice, collect experiences and make memories. I promise you’ll thank me later.