I am now back in the U.S. and two weeks into classes at Boston College. After returning from China my life was a whirl wind. The culture shock surprisingly didn’t hit me too hard initially because I was just too busy to realize. I had to unpack, meet with tons of people (friends and family) and summarize my experience hundreds of times. The first sign that I was back home—back to familiarity—was my first meal. The night I got home, my family had one of my favorite home-cooked meals: pork, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pop-overs. I showed everyone pictures and told stories though most of my family had a good idea of what I had been doing by keeping up with my blog.
Within just days of unpacking my countless souvenirs and four months worth of clothes, I had to start packing to move into my off-campus house at Boston College. While it was definitely strange being back—for one: seeing people in the streets whose hair color was something other than black—I didn’t fully realize how accustomed I had become to the Chinese culture. It was a relief to be able to speak English with any and everyone, and to know that no matter where I was, I could always ask for directions—a luxury I didn’t have while in China.
After moving back to school I was again bombarded by the distracting effects of “new” in my life. It was exciting being back at Boston College, a sentiment which was only amplified by living in a huge house with 14 friends. Seeing familiar faces (despite that 40% of my class goes abroad in the spring) and landmarks was the most satisfying part. For the first few weeks, the adjustment was so drastic that I didn’t really have time to really reflect on my experiences and what they meant for me. It wasn’t till I really settled back into the routine of classes and life at school in general, that I realized how much I had changed.
If I had to sum up the fundamental difference between me before and after living in China in one word, it would simply be: Perspective. The perspective I had developed throughout my life—growing up in a small town in northeastern Massachusetts etc—was totally blown out the window in a way that is hard to describe. I have had an extremely fortunate childhood with the opportunity to travel all around the world—China, Thailand, London, Paris, Florence, the Caribbean—but while those experiences did each individually and collectively expand my perspective of the world, none of them were comparable to actually living abroad for an extended period of time. As I had been told (and soon realized to be accurate), the first month or so of the study abroad experience feels like a vacation in that everything is exciting and new. After this “honeymoon” period, the experience becomes something other than merely a vacation or fleeting visit. You start to relate to the people, the culture, and life in that country not from the eyes of a tourist passing through, but progressively from the eyes of those around you—the citizens who were born and raised there. That is the perspective which is unattainable without actually living in another country, and a perspective which I have come to appreciate and understand more fully as I settle back into life here back at home.
Another important realization, more particular to me, was the opportunity to glimpse what life may be like for me after college. During my four months in China I was so excited by the people I was meeting, the ideas I was encountering, and the contagious excitement that inevitably surrounds those living in Beijing, China, (due to the unprecedented economic opportunity) that I grew accustomed to the idea that I would live and work there after college. In a lot of ways, the experience was a “test-run” of sorts, and in those months my mindset was constantly focused on my future aspirations abroad as I habitually ended an intriguing conversation with a newfound friend with, “I’ll be here in another year and a half.” I didn’t fully appreciate the consequences of that state of mind until returning—both positive and negative. The negative aspect was that I was focusing too heavily on the future and upon returning to college, I realized that I was both excited and relieved to be just a junior in college again, along with the simplicities that affords. I did, however, come away with a newfound clarity in both what I wanted for myself, and how my life and actions today could align to that eventual goal of working and succeeding in China. In a sense, the opportunity to live away from my life as I knew it made my future aspirations more apparent to me. As I came back to my life back at Boston College, that clarity gave direction and more meaning to what I was doing now.
The months abroad definitely weren’t always easy–I remember how hard it was adjusting to the food, being away from my girlfriend, friends, and family, and seemingly being out of place in every way—but it was undoubtedly one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences I have ever had. China, in particular, was not a typical study abroad experience in any way. I talked with friends who went to Australia and Europe, who had an amazing time going out partying and going on what seemed like an extended spring break. While I am in no way discrediting other programs, I definitely do not regret taking the more unusual path; a path that, though hard at times, has made all the difference.