Thoughts On Returning from Studying Abroad: Boston, You’re My Home
I left the hot 98 degree Santiago air to land in a snowstorm in Boston. After a 15-hour journey, the freezing air slapped me in the face as the automatic doors opened to let me out. Disorientated and dehydrated, I bumped into a man on my way out of the plane. “I’m so sorry. I am sorry,” I cried out.
“It’s ok,” he snarled back. Ahh, yes, the frigid air irritating my skin, the cold remarks of strangers refusing to make eye contact, and the monitor announcing flights every few minutes. Logan Airport, we meet again.
I was home.
No, I wasn’t. Physically, I did land in Boston (the greatest city on Earth), but my mind was still in Santiago. One of the main side effects of spending so much time outside of one’s own city is that it takes time to settle back in into the little nest one spent years molding to one’s liking. I was dumbfounded as I made my way to baggage claim, where I would later struggle with the two oversized suitcases that weighed more than me. Luckily, my friend’s mom would help me get them to the car. I managed to get outside as my Dad welcomed me with a hug and gloves (yes, he remembered to bring them!). We drove on the Zakim bridge to get home, and with each familiar turn the car took, it became more and more clear that coming back in the beginning of winter was a poor choice.
The next few days were snapshots of an album: sleeping 12 hour days to keep up with my little brother, answering a million questions about favorite places visited, foods ingested, and dialects learned. Since I landed on Saturday and I am a 21 year old who thinks that she is invincible, I woke up early Sunday morning and attended my church’s Christmas service. I was running on glorious adrenaline, and I was going to take advantage of this energy to see my friends before they went home for winter break.
Traveling guide books and the flyers always tell the logistics of traveling: costs, dates, and sights.
But no one ever talks about the re-adjustment period, the reverse culture shock coming back to a culture that is your own.
Since Chilean money is usually counted in thousands (due to currency exchange rates and cost of living), I was used to everyday items costing five or six thousand pesos - it was not unusual for money to reach the thousandth place in a price tag. However, coming back home, nothing you need daily should ever cost five thousand dollars. For a few days, I kept looking at price tags at stores and wondering how this system ever worked and why it looked so strange to me. In Santiago, when we were in public, our ears would perk up when we heard people speaking English and often were tempted to ask “Where are you from?” When I got back home, everyone spoke English and I had to retrain myself to not eavesdrop… because it was actually people speaking their native tongue.
And here’s the bittersweet part of traveling - on one hand, it is good to be home with family and friends that I have missed so much, but on the other hand, you miss your other home. The other home that you spent time and energy getting accustomed to over the past six months. The other home where you had to start all over again with a new language and new cultural norms. The other home where you got to brush certain aspects of living aside and had to focus on new ways of living. And that is what makes traveling both emotional and vulnerable---because you get attached. And the worst part about having two homes is that no matter where you are, you are always missing home.
This should not dissuade anyone from traveling. Instead, it should encourage everyone to make as many homes as possible and to become global citizens.
It should serve as a tool to break emotional barriers between different homes and different types of homes around the world.
When we connect with people and see the best that they and their country have to offer, then we can begin to break political and geographical barriers that often seep into our minds and create unfortunate stereotypes, then we can see that each home has so much to offer us.
The US Postal Service has a motto, and I’d like to adopt that motto to my beloved Boston. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will keep me from you.
Boston, you’re my home.
Stephane Alexandre is the Intercultural Immersion Editor for Wandering Educators. A Tufts University student, she just returned from studying abroad in Chile.
All photos courtesy and copyright Stephane Alexandre