Lexa Muehlbauer ’17 had a life-changing experience when she studied abroad in Spain in the fall of 2015.
The hardest part, she says, was not the difference in culture or the language barrier. It was returning to the U.S. at the end of her semester.
“I missed being around international students, planning spontaneous trips, and being immersed in a different culture,” she said.
Muehlbauer and 32 other students from surrounding colleges gathered on Butler’s campus on Saturday, February 18, to unpack, reflect, and act on their abroad experiences at Indiana’s first Lessons from Abroad Conference.
Lessons from Abroad, or LFA, is a non-profit organization that assists individuals with the re-entry process when coming back to the U.S., which can be one of the most difficult parts about studying abroad.
LFA offers regional conferences all over the country for abroad returnees. These conferences give students opportunities to continue to learn from their travel experiences.
Students at Indiana’s LFA conference on Saturday enjoyed a full schedule of activities. They watched a short film about returning to the United States and explored options to go abroad again. They also learned how to present their abroad experiences with digital storytelling and how to showcase their newly acquired skills in resumes, cover letters, and interviews.
The event also acted as a networking opportunity where students could connect with other study abroad returnees and professionals working in internationally focused jobs.
Muehlbauer said that even though she traveled abroad almost two years ago, the conference showed her how those experiences had an impact on her identity.
“It’s always nice to be around people who have the same travel mindset as you do,” she said. “It’s a very unique support system. These are new people who are excited to hear about your travel adventures and believe in your aspirations to make traveling a part of your life and career.”
Muehlbauer’s experience had such an influence on her that she decided to head back to Spain to volunteer teach for four months after graduation. The conference allowed her to reminisce about her trip and reinforced her desire to return to her host country.
Calie Florek is the Study Abroad Advisor at Butler. She serves as the primary contact for Butler students who are preparing to study abroad and was the co-chair for the LFA conference.
She said re-entry is something a lot of students don’t think about but is an important part of the study abroad process.
“Without unpacking what they learned abroad, students miss out on important lessons that study abroad teaches,” Florek said. “The Indiana LFA Conference is a wonderful opportunity for students to holistically evaluate their experiences abroad.”