Studying abroad is a life-changing experience. Like all good things, though, it can't last forever. What happens when students return to BC, and how do they process the transition? The Gavel interviewed students who are currently reacclimating to share their thoughts.
Peter Zogby, MCAS ‘21, studied in Dublin, Ireland this past fall. He says returning to BC has been surprising in both big and small ways.
“Coming back from abroad is crazy,” expresses Zogby. “They have a chicken burger in Lower now,” he says, noting his surprise at even the slightest change.
Aside from the cuisine, Zogby expands on what it's like navigating BC after being inevitably 'changed' by his abroad experience.
“There’s definitely a learning curve; nobody has held you accountable for anything for four months, you’ve been a single-celled organism floating gently through a sea of warm beer and €9 RyanAir croissants,” he says. “You’ve ‘changed,’ but the change doesn’t always translate when you get back.”
Zogby makes the point that adjusting to a completely different pace back at BC can be especially challenging.
“Losing your anonymity is scary,” Zogby adds. “You’ve forgotten how to be in nine places at the same time, but it’s also an essential part of the [college] experience, and learning how to choose which version of yourself you prefer is what makes you better for having gone.”
Monica Sanchez, MCAS ‘21, studied in Bilbao, Spain during the first semester of this year. While she was away, she realized that she previously hadn’t been taking advantage of all the opportunities that exist at BC. Instead, she had remained within her comfort zone as a history and political science double major.
Sanchez’s perspective changed after students in Spain asked about the classes she had taken on different cultures. She says this motivated her to branch out; upon arriving back to BC this semester, she decided to broaden her course load with classes like Islamic Political Philosophy, among others.
While studying abroad challenged Sanchez to reach out of her comfort zone, it also encouraged her to embrace time spent relaxing.
“I’m trying to bring back the peace I had while abroad,” Sanchez says. “The way people live in Spain is so different than in the U.S. because they don’t live by such a rigid routine.”
While abroad, she allowed herself to relax and take a break to watch Netflix, something that would have seemed outrageous and unproductive at BC.
“At some point it’s okay to take a break and relax,” Sanchez emphasizes. “Abroad showed me how important personal days are.”
Coming back from abroad can feel a bit like waking up from a dream––then add three tests and a paper due next Tuesday on top of that already rude awakening. However, not all post-abroad transitions are made equal. Christiane Paulhus, MCAS ’21, studied in Madrid, Spain, and says that her transition has gone better than expected.
“It's been tough to get back into the rigorous workload and get used to spending a large portion of the weekend working rather than traveling,” Paulhus confesses. “Aside from the workload, it's been great to reunite with friends and be back on campus here at Boston College,” she adds.
Alexis Burns, MCAS ‘21, studied in London and agrees that the changeover has been a smooth one.
“It’s been a really seamless transition for me,” Burns says. “I missed BC a lot and coming back, I just kind of fell into the swing of things.”
Matt DeMerlis, MCAS ‘21, had a unique experience, as he lived with a local family while studying abroad in Florence, Italy this fall.
“I miss my host family a lot because experiencing the culture through them made the experience that much better,” DeMerlis reminisces.
DeMerlis returned early because his program was very long and he anticipated needing a few days to adjust to being back on BC's campus.
“I did feel out of place; like it wasn’t my home yet, which I expected,” He says.
Ultimately, returning in the spring as a junior––versus arriving in the fall as a senior––can be helpful.
“I was glad to [study abroad in] the fall, because it kind of forced me to get back to the BC culture and into the swing of things before senior year starts,” says DeMerlis.
DeMerlis also adds how that time abroad allowed him to gain confidence through traveling.
“I miss being in a city and just experiencing the culture on a daily basis and not having a plan,” DeMerlis reflects. “At BC, you're kind of constrained in a bubble, whereas in Florence I could explore a different part of the city everyday.”
After studying in South Africa, Hal Knowlton, MCAS ‘21, expresses that returning to the U.S. has given him an appreciation for certain resources that are easily taken for granted.
“Coming back to the American standard of living was a shock, with everything being luxurious—especially the amount of water,” Knowlton explains. “But I also felt at home because this is where all my family and friends are.”
Luke Bryan, MCAS ‘21, attended a program in New Delhi, India, and he says that he's grateful for the challenge of adjustment.
“The transition back has definitely been weird, and even a little surreal,” Bryan confirms. “But to me that’s a good thing, because it means I’m taking my experience with me.”
For those students who elect to study abroad, it's hard not to miss a place that became so meaningful over such a short period of time.
“As time passes, I find I miss South Africa more and more,” Knowlton says. “If I see a picture or news about South Africa, my mind goes there and I wish I could go back.”
It's inspiring to hear how impacted BC students are by their abroad experiences. Stories like theirs only reaffirm why 50% of undergraduate students take the leap to new countries each year. The resounding conclusion seems to be that any post-abroad obstacles are well worth the time spent overseas. Memories from abroad last long after their return flights have landed, and BC’s campus anxiously awaits students' return, as well as the new insights and knowledge they've gained.