Recalling shared adventures abroad: A 30-year reunion
Thirty years ago, I had the blessed opportunity to spend my final undergraduate semester at Valparaiso University’s study center in Cambridge, England. Our group of 20 VU students interspersed a fixed menu of courses in British history, European geography, drama, and art appreciation with plenty of time to explore the British Isles and the European continent.
Since 1991, our group has reconvened in Valparaiso, Indiana every five years for a reunion, and this year’s gathering took place over the past weekend. Eleven of our group made it, along with several spouses and friends — and we were joined by one of our British chums from 1981!
The benefits of purposeful slackerdom
Today study abroad often is touted as a chance to learn about globalization & the international economy and to build one’s resume & credentials. These claims are true, but the most enduring value of foreign study remains the enhancement of one’s personal culture and growth.
I have long regarded that semester as my most formative educational experience, even though what I saw and studied had very little to do with any of my career goals at the time. So many aspects of my life today have their roots in those five months.
Among our group, I’m not alone in holding such sentiments. At our reunion, one classmate told me that nearly every day some memory of that semester comes to mind, and another remarked that our semester overseas was one of her most significant personal experiences. Indeed, the fact that our reunions typically attract over half of our group attests not only to the personal bonds that we made, but also to the special quality of the experiences we shared.
Our semester abroad was not the most career-centered or academically rigorous course of study. However, living in another country, learning about other cultures, and making our way around parts of Europe were remarkably educational and maturing experiences. Sometimes we forget there are benefits to such purposeful slackerdom.
Every five years, we tell the same stories, poke gentle fun at one another in the same ways, and page through scrapbooks that revive memories leading to more stories.
But this gathering felt a little different to me. As I looked at fellow sojourners attending this 30th year reunion and thought about those who weren’t able to join us, I realized that we had come far enough in life to do some stock taking.
What I saw made me happy. You’ll have to take my word for it: These are good folks. All have made their positive mark on this world. Several have confronted serious adversity with courage and resilience.
In other words, I believe we’ve turned out pretty well — in a diverse assortment of ways to boot. And although I don’t want to exaggerate the benefits of one semester abroad, I have to think that time together in 1981 played at least a modest role in nurturing the good qualities we bring to our lives today.