Semester Abroad A Year Ago Today

December 6, 2018
By Rebecca Pels, CAS'19

University of Melbourne - Australia

In the age of technology, everything we do is stored in our phones, or the cloud, or our computer backups. When these photos, these memories, are saved in such spaces, looking back becomes exponentially easier, more so than was ever before imagined possible. So easy, in fact, that memories from the past resurface when you are not even trying to relive them. For those of you with Snapchat, see that little icon on the middle bottom of your screen with the red dot? Snapchat’s algorithm compiles “flashbacks” based on your past shared stories, and a year out from my abroad experience, these flashbacks labeled “A Year Ago Today” bring me right back.

It’s sort of strange, clicking on one of these memories, knowing it’s yours, knowing it happened, in fact, knowing you’re the one who documented it. But a year out from my time 10,000 miles away in Australia and places surrounding it, these memories feel so distant yet simultaneously so close. If I close my eyes and imagine it hard enough, I’m taken right back into the moment; it feels like it just happened. But then I open my eyes, and I’m here, in Philadelphia, finishing my final year of college at Penn, and those memories of the Great Barrier Reef or adventures in Thailand could not feel further away from my reality.

As bittersweet as these memories are, I would not change them for anything. We are so lucky to live in a world where reflecting is as easy as a tap on a red dot. To see pictures of my childhood I’m sent to the vast array of photo albums compiled by my mother, and while these means of reflection hold a certain emotional value and nostalgia, they lack the spontaneity that things like Snapchat provide. On tough days, that little red dot reminds me of an absolutely unforgettable experience I have had and makes me realize how fortunate I am to attend a school where studying abroad in places as far away as Melbourne, Australia is a possibility.

For anyone considering going abroad, do it. Document everything. Meet amazing people. Have experiences you never imagined you could. Because one day, you’ll click that little red dot and a smile will come to your face when you are able to recount that thing you did a year ago today.

Images from Rebecca Pels

Left: Best grilled cheese of my life from Toasta in Melbourne, Australia - August 22, 2017.
Right: Sarana Bungalow in Ko Pha-ngan, Thailand - November 13, 2017. 

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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.

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