I walk around the snow-covered Boston College campus for the first time in several months. As I make my way to class, I bump into old friends and acquaintances that have remained at BC for the entirety of the year. “You were abroad, right? How was it?” they ask. My response is always something along the lines of “life-changing, amazing, so much fun.” I don’t dare go into too much detail – most people are only looking for the two-sentence version of my experience – before continuing on my way. These conversations are noticeably different, however, when I run into friends who have also just come back from studying abroad. “How was it?” they ask, followed by a tentative and slightly concerned, “how are you doing?”
Frankly, it feels strange being back. I’ve found that many of us are homesick for our foreign homes, as odd as that sounds. The adjustment is more difficult than one would imagine and the phrase “reverse culture shock” gets thrown around every so often. It’s hard to believe that being back at BC, my home for the past two years, could feel so much more foreign to me than my apartment in France. Some friends have even said that being back feels somewhat mundane; after a semester of truly exploring the world and immersing ourselves in entirely different cultures, sitting in lecture halls and spending each weekend on campus can feel a bit repetitive and pointless. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly isn’t a bad feeling to be back – I’m completely in love with this school and there wasn’t a day spent in France when I didn’t miss BC – but it is a bit unnerving.
For me, it’s the little things that throw me off the most. I’m no longer using a confusing, European shower with no curtain; I have a normal, American one in my dorm room. Instead of treating myself to homemade bread from my host mom each day, I eat in the dining hall. Rather than choosing between various cafes for lunch where I can sit and relax while I eat, I walk through the crowded Eagles’ Nest in hopes of finding a table with friends. I don’t eat dinner at 9pm and I haven’t had a bit of wine or cheese since I’ve been back in the U.S. On the first day of class, I admit I was actually relieved to go to French class since it was a comfort to me to speak French again.
While it’s difficult to be back, I think every study abroad student would agree that it’s worth it. Each of our lives has been enriched by the places we’ve been and the people we’ve met. Sometimes it feels like my time in France was simply a dream or a hiatus from the real world, but I wonder, perhaps, if that life is more what our lives here should be like. I wonder if traveling and exploring and soaking in every bit of the world around us is the way that we should be living in Boston, too. Although it’s different and, at times, monotonously familiar here, I think it’s possible to experience each day with the same amazement that we felt in our foreign homes.