Last semester, I spent the semester abroad in Panama. I was part of a unique program run through the ecology and evolutionary biology department. When I first started thinking about going abroad, one of my biggest concens was "FOMO": fear of missing out. Would I miss out on fun events with my friends? Would I be sad that I wouldn’t attend spring events such as the annual dodgeball tournament or Communiversity (arts festival)? Would I be upset when I saw Facebook photos of my friends all having a great time without me?
However, once I went to Pamana, I quickly realized that none of those fears mattered. Sure, my friends were having a good time without me, and yes, I was missing out on events, but I was also doing incredible things. When my friends were having a movie night, I was busy celebrating Carnival (a celebration with parades, floats, music and dancing) and going hiking in a rainforest. When they were going out to dinner on Nassau Street, I was busy snorkeling and going to karaoke parties. I was having unique and special experiences that I wouldn’t have been able to have anywhere else. Plus, I was making new friends and getting to explore a new country.
Another thing that really helped was that I had WiFi and could stay in touch with my friends and family. I didn’t get to talk to them everyday, as I might have back at school, but I was able to Skype when I had free time. I think in some ways it may have even been more special because I had the designated time to catch up with them rather than constantly seeing them in passing at school and remaking how we wanted to get a meal and catch up. Also, for any of you with significant others, rest assured that your relationship can remain and potentially even become stronger while you are abroad.
Upon arrival back at campus, I was also a little frightened about what it would be like. Would people remember me? Would people even have noticed that I was gone? Yet, as soon as I stepped back on campus in May and visited the clubs and organizations where I spent the majority of my time, my fears vanished. I was immediately welcomed back and people constantly came up to me asking how my semester was. It was such a great feeling knowing that my friends did miss me and that they wanted to hear all about my experiences.
All in all, I would honestly say that my social life was not affected by my semester abroad, and if anything, it improved. I met a new group of friends whom with I was able to share a crazy and meaningful experience. Now that I’ve experienced the first half of a real semester back at Princeton, it feels like nothing has changed. I don’t feel out of touch with any aspect of campus life. Things feel normal, despite having been away for a semester.