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The Four Stages of Coming Back from Abroad

It’s that time of year when all the juniors who went abroad in the fall return to campus. That time of year when you can’t help but overhear that Barcelona Wine Bar doesn’t compare to the cheap and delicious tapas of the real Barcelona (pronounced with a th). That time of year when you can’t help but think about Parma, Italy every time you want some cheese on your pasta. 

If you’re one of these juniors, you’re settling back into life at Boston College, but you can’t help but reminisce about abroad and insert your host country into every conversation you can. Friends you haven’t seen in a while say it was their best semester yet, and you just happened to be out of the picture. You miss the prices, the accents, the new-found friends—but here you are, back in Boston for another snowy, cold, Northeast winter. In my experience, there are four central stages to coming back to Boston College after a culturally enriching and financially draining abroad experience.

Stage 1: You’ve Never Been More Patriotic

Abroad, few people seem to really understand the meaning of “America.” While you’ve maybe never been the overly patriotic type, you likely found yourself defending your country against stereotypes and viral social media posts while abroad.

Since returning home, you’re more thankful than ever for free ice water at restaurants, the ability to drive your car around quaint suburbs, American friendliness (or “fakeness,” as your abroad friends would call it), the comfort of knowing the local language, and the BC culture of starting early and ending early for a full night of sleep on a Friday.

Stage 2: You Start to Miss Your Host Country

It’s inevitable. You are going to start to miss your host country. The cobblestone streets, the reliable public transportation, the excuse to post on your social media too much, and the realization that you were somewhere cooler than a Boston suburb.

Maybe you made new international friends that you’ll never see again, or maybe you made more BC friends that now look away when you wave outside Gasson. Whatever your situation may be, there are bound to be things that you miss.

Stage 3: You Start to Compensate

At the height of your abroad sadness, you will start to compensate for those feelings of nostalgia. Maybe you get overly excited about Girl Scout cookie season, maybe you spend way too much money on the BC vs. BU game and Beanpot tickets, or maybe you find your host country in everything that you do.

I studied in Amsterdam, and as I drive car-centric cities like Boston, I can’t help but yell, “Paint is not infrastructure!” at the terribly designed and incredibly dangerous bike lanes.

Maybe the equatorial heat isn’t as oppressive as you thought it was, and you’re craving the Singaporian sweat. Maybe the Spanish you learned in CCR1 just isn’t hitting the way it did when you were in Chile, so you tell everyone in class how the Chileans pronounced it (over and over and over again).

Stage 4: Acceptance 

But now, you are back. If you’re lucky, you’re living on Foster Street. If you’re not so lucky, you have a 30 minute walk through slush to get to campus. But either way, you are not in Europe, or Asia, or South America, or Africa, or anywhere cooler than the Allston-Brighton-Newton trifecta. 

You’ll accept that some of the coolest moments of your life have passed and you probably won’t live abroad in that capacity ever again. But you will also look forward to the top-tier restaurant service, your 21st birthday actually mattering, and Starbucks reclaiming its throne in your life.

It may be over, but you’re better for it. No one can understand your experience exactly as you did, but your experience wouldn’t have been as special if they could. 

Welcome home, Eagles.

February 6, 2024

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