The Salem Experience for $20 or Less

Come for the witches, stay for the tiny hand-blown glass animals.

image2.jpegThat’s not the slogan for the town of Salem, but it definitely is for my time there. I was initially interested in the grisly history of the witch trials, especially since it’s perfect for Halloween. I mean, the pivotal film Hocus Pocus is set there. But I must confess I spent much more of my time delicately combing through a tray of miniature polar bears and dogs and squids than I did contemplating the fickleness of humanity at the witch trials memorial.

Perhaps the most important part of my Salem adventures, however, is the fact that I spent less than twenty dollars for the whole day, train fare included. Here are my tips for how you can spend a day in the insanely-crowded town without breaking the bank!

1. Don’t buy your tickets on the train

Just go over to the little Charlie card ATM-like robot and buy a ticket. It’s a couple dollars cheaper, and those couple dollars can buy you a magical stone. A magical stone!!! More on that later.

2. The best souvenirs are also pretty cheap

Earlier — as in, immediately before this — I mentioned a little something about a magical stone. It’s time to talk more about that. I spent the unbelievable price of ONE AMERICAN DOLLAR on a stone that promises to increase my success, elevate my mood, and grant wishes. And it looks good doing it! This is an amazing and useful souvenir, especially since I’ve already gone a few days and haven’t lost it!

A lot of the stuff in the witchy stores in Salem is reasonably priced. So are postcards and little things like that. If you want a souvenir from your spooky journey you don’t have to break the bank!

 

3. Walking around is free

Tiring, yes, but free. Sometimes it’s like people forget you don’t have to pay for a tour in order to see stuff. The witch trials memorial is really amazing and right in town. The historical sights can be gazed at from afar with no added cos

t. There’s even the Salem Heritage Trail, which is similar to Boston’s Freedom Trail but distinctly witchier.

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And some of the most fun I had in Salem was walking around the stores. This is not because I am Isla Fisher in the 2009 film adaptation of Sophie Kinsella’s bestselling novel Confessions of a Shopaholic, but rather because there are a ton of cool stores in Salem. Some of them are so cool there is a line to get in! My favorite one was The Coven’s Cottage, and I chose to buy my magical stone from there because I liked the vibe. There are also wand stores, knick knack stores and bookstores, and all of these make for a fun browse!

4. Spend some money on the experience

For me, this meant forking over a couple of ones for a hot apple cider. 

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(Review: watery, but delicious!) For some of my fellow travelers, this meant fried dough, a book on Wiccan spells, a bandana for a dog or fifteen minutes with a fortune-teller. Some people enjoy feeling unsafe and frightened, and these people would not be able to visit Salem without entering the doors of one of Salem’s many haunted houses. There’s not much point to visiting if you don’t feel spooky or Halloween-y or, in short, Salem-y. So it’s worth it to shell out some cash for that One Thing.

In short: Salem is great and very Halloween-feeling and it doesn’t have to be expensive! If you plan in advance and consider what will make your experience really worthwhile, you can have a solid day for $20 or less.

 

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Disney as an Adult

1. Etsy Ears

  If you don’t know already, Etsy is a wonderful website to buy Disney themed merch at. Not only do they have shirts and jewelry, but there are countless shops solely dedicated to handcrafting and selling Disney ears. You can find pairs in almost any color or theme. Many shops will even do custom orders. My most recent purchase was a pair of skull ears that glow in the dark. 

2. Wait Times and Planning 

   This probably doesn’t speak well of me, but I swear I’ve grown more impatient as the years go on. So when it comes to Disney, the wait times can be excruciatingly long. However, I also now have apps like the My Disney Experience and Headsup to help me make the most of my time and provide some entertainment in line. One of the best parts of being an adult at Disney is being able to completely plan and customize your trip to your every whim. Planning out fast passes in advance help you to make the most of your time and avoid as many long lines as possible. 

3. Dining and Drinking Around the World

  Something I’ve learned to greatly appreciate in my recent ventures to Disney is the food. Sure as a kid I loved to get a snack here and there, but never fully appreciated the full experience  Not only do the parks have mouth watering must-haves such as pretzels and dole whip but countless sit-down restaurants available if your budget allows for it. Epcot and Disney Springs are the places to go if you’re looking to have the Disney eating experience. Being 21 and Disney is a great combo. Epcot has an endless array of alcoholic beverages that are both tasty and strong. 

4. Money

One of the biggest things I’ve come to realize as an adult is how expensive going to Disney is. Everything from the food to the park tickets themselves is pretty high in cost. Even with Disney Blogs giving us all the top notch ways to save money, there’s no doubt that a Dinsey vacation is going to cost you a pretty penny. I’m definitely way more appreciative of my trips looking back.

 

5. Extra Magic Hours

Extra Magic Hours at night are some of my best hours spent at Disney. Simply put, fewer kids and shorter lines.

 

6. Changes to the Park

One of the things about being able to return to the Disney park as an adult that is equally as exciting as it is heartbreaking are the changes they make to the parks. Your reaction undoubtedly depends on your taste as a Disney fan. New park additions can mean more rides and experiences for park goers, but can also mean older and more classic attractions get torn down. I’m still pretty bitter about Tower of Terror.

7. Memories

Since I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Disney more than once growing up, I have some pretty fond memories (mainly of Disneyland) that make going back even more special now. Returning to places and reliving experiences that made me so happy as kid help to make it just as special as an adult. I often find myself tearing up during the firework show (I know, make fun of me all you want.) Disney sure knows how to capitalize on nostalgia.  

8. Disney is romantic

There’s nothing better than spending a day at Disney with your S.O. The food, the mutual love of pin-trading (I got lucky with that one) and the firework shows at night all make for a great date.  There’s a reason I’ll be spending my five year anniversary at Magic Kingdom this year!

My most recent trip to Disney (Spring 2017) rockin’ some classic Minnie ears.

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My Big Greek Vacation- Part 3: Santorini

I think I can safely say I saved the most beautiful place on the planet as the ending for my trip to Greece. Santorini is another island in the Aegean Sea and is primarily known for its sunsets. Many people say it’s the most beautiful place to watch the sunset, and I can’t say I disagree. Even looking back at my pictures I realize that no camera can capture Santorini. It defies technology.

Santorini was very easygoing. We spent most of it lounging around the pool in our hotel or out on the ocean. The ocean cruise was actually the best part of the entire trip. We were on a small ship with about twelve other people for six hours cruising around the shores of Santorini. We got to see the black, red and white sand beaches. There were cliffs made of lumpy volcanic rock due to the fault line right underneath the island. I got to sail right by an active volcano, so that was a little terrifying. The volcano was actually right off the coast of our hotel, so I got used to being near it after a while.

Back to the cruise. For me the best parts of it all were the few stops we made so we could jump into the sea and swim around for some time. It was like swimming in Mykonos only better. The water was crystal clear to the point where I could see fish swimming underneath my feet. One of the stops was at a hot springs by an inactive volcano, because there are actually two volcanos next to Santorini.

Santorini also has a cute town just like Mykonos. This one was called Oia (it sounds like EE-aa), and it’s the most famous in Santorini. It has the same white walls as Chora, but these are rounded with blue domes at the top. Despite the shops and all the great gifts they had to offer, Oia is most known for being the best place to watch the sunset.

Honestly, you could watch the sunset from anywhere and it would be just as beautiful. The view from my hotel was stunning. The first night we were there, I couldn’t stop looking out at the skyline during dinner. The sky looked like a pastel rainbow. That’s the best way I can describe it. The mountains and rocks looked lavender during the sunset too. Then there was the moon coming up opposite the sun, which is something I literally couldn’t capture it on my phone. I could watch it change right before my eyes. When the moon was lowest, it was bright red. The higher it got, I could see it change from red to light orange, when finally to yellow once the sun was totally gone. I really wish I could get a better description for you guys, because it was absolutely surreal.

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Surreal is the word that keeps coming up when I think about Greece. It was the best place I’ve ever been to in my life, and I can’t recommend it enough for anyone who hasn’t been there before. You won’t be disappointed.

My Big Greek Vacation- Part 2: Mykonos

From Athens, Mykonos is just a thirty minute plane right away. From the moment I got off the plane, it was clear that the island was significantly different from the mainland. The roads are narrow and some aren’t even paved. The landscape is hilly with dry brown grass and bushes.

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Oh, and it’s windy.

I don’t just mean Chicago-style-windy either. When we went to the beach, the sand and water was blowing in our faces. We had to weigh down our books, towels and anything that weighed less than a cinderblock. I almost lost a 400 page book to the wind multiple times.

Despite the wind, it was still the most gorgeous beach I’ve ever visited. It was amazing really. While the island was dry and arid, the coastlines were absolutely stunning. I took so many pictures of the water that I had to delete a good number of them just to make room for other photos. Even with the pictures, I couldn’t help but be disappointed that there was absolutely no way I’d be able to recapture what it was like to stand there at my hotel and see the view. Swimming in it was even more surreal. I could see right to the bottom it was so clear. The cold water was so refreshing and so salty I could float without a problem. It was really interesting to be able to notice that the water had that much salt in it. It was a lot better than the New York and Florida beaches; I came out of the Aegean Sea feeling almost exfoliated.

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On the opposite side of the island from our hotel is a completely different kind of attraction. It’s the little cobblestone town of Chora. It’s filled with cute shops selling beautiful jewelry, soap, and all the Greek souvenirs you can imagine. The buildings were this nice bright white and they had bold blue shutters that caught my eye. They were small and simple but it was still awesome to see the interesting architecture I’ve never encountered before.

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They have beautiful bougainvilleas all over Greece, but this one in Chora took my breath away.

We did get lost in the town though. Multiple times. It was actually designed that way to confuse invaders, we were told by a local. The streets are all intersecting and you can’t really retrace your steps. Trust me I’ve tried. In a few cases I went in a complete circle. I was happy about getting lost though. Each street was a little different and I managed to find a cool magnet of Socrates while I was there.

Staying in Mykonos was an incredible three days. On the last day, we took a ferry to another Greek island, Santorini. Stay tuned next week for the third and final part of my Greek trip!

My Big Greek Vacation- Pt 1: Athens

My family is Greek. We’ve always wanted to visit Greece and experience the culture of our family and so we finally booked a two week vacation and headed over. I’ve just returned from said trip to Greece and I can safely say it’s the best vacation I’ve ever taken in my life. This is a country everyone needs to see before they die. From their islands to the mainland, Greece is stunning.

It’s the third most mountainous country in Europe, something I didn’t know until I got there. The capitol city Athens is actually in a valley surrounded by mountains on three sides with the sea on the fourth. It was also very dry and hot. It didn’t rain once while we were there but there was always a nice breeze even when the temperature in Athens reached above 100 degrees.

In all honesty, Athens itself isn’t pretty. It’s home to about five million of Greece’s eleven million people, and the buildings are crowded and littered in graffiti. In other words, Athens is like a regular city. However, it does have one major twist. The ancient Acropolis sits a few hundred feet above the city right in the middle of them all. Seriously, I could see the Parthenon from my hotel room.

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The Acropolis from my hotel window.

It was a real hike to get up to the Acropolis. My family and I had to stop and rest before finally coming face to face with the ruins that are thousands of years older than the USA. There are two main ruins up on top of the Acropolis. The big draw is the surreal Parthenon. This is the temple for the goddess Athena, who gifted the ancient Athenians and thus won the right to have the city named after her (according to mythology, that is). The other is a smaller but still gorgeous temple dedicated to Poseidon, another favorite of the Ancient Athenians.

Now I’m a writer, but overall I can say that everything in Greece I saw challenged me to even attempt to describe how out of this world the entire experience was. This feeling started at the Parthenon. It’s exactly like the pictures, but it’s so huge when standing next to it. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that someone built this. Ancient Greeks used perfect mathematics to form a giant temple that still stands today. Of course significant portions are missing and reconstruction efforts are taking place, it still felt amazing to stare up at these wide columns and symmetrical design.

The view from the Acropolis is also amazing. As the center of the city both today and in ancient times, you can see out over the whole city on all sides. I could see the Theatre of Dionysus, a theatre I was excited to see after learning all about Greek theatre at Emerson. I love Ancient Greek literature, so seeing the giant amphitheater where they would put on some of the most famous tragedies was, sorry to use the word again, surreal.

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The view from the top of the Acropolis
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Theatre of Dionysus! The ancient Greeks obviously didn’t have that screen or those modern chairs down there, haha.

Athens was such a new cultural experience that I won’t forget until the day I die. From the delicious gyros and fresh food to the after-dinner shots that comes customary after every meal, I think I discovered a whole new kind of eating experience to take back to America.

But, this was only the beginning. My family and I also visited popular Greek islands Mykonos and Santorini after Athens. Each had their own amazing and unique qualities, and I’ll tell you all about them soon!

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Just hanging out by the Parthenon

Fun and Cheap Adventures for Summer 2017

If you’re anything like me, you like trying new things and visiting new places. Even if you aren’t as inclined to branch out, summer is a great time to try new things and visit new places. New adventures don’t necessarily require lots of money and preparation, you can have a lot of fun in and around your hometown to spice up your summer and discover some hidden gems. Trust me, growing up in a small town has forced me to get very creative when I’m bored.

Whether you’re bored on a rainy day, or sick of going to the beach on your day off, these ideas can help you find something different to do this summer.

Public Parks

Acadia National Park

The best vacation I have ever been on was to a national park. Last summer my family visited Acadia National Park in Maine, and the sights were breathtaking. I have never seen such natural beauty and it made me want to go on a national park road trip. Wherever you live in the world, there are public parks, hiking trails, and lakes that many people don’t know about. A lot of them are free entry, too! If there is a daily fee, the money goes back into environmental efforts to keep the parks open and thriving.

There are numerous parks in Massachusetts alone, and thousands across the country. Many offer kayak and canoe rentals, camping grounds, and scenic walking trails. Parks are a great way to bring out your inner adventurer and spend time outside.

They are also perfect for your furry friends to enjoy.

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Aren’t into climbing mountains? Have no fear! Pack up a nice lunch and go sit by a beautiful lake or overlook, I promise you will not be disappointed. Lunch with a view is always a good idea.

Parks can be packed during the summer, but there are multiple trails so nothing ever feels too crowded. Getting out into nature is great physically, but also mentally. The warm summer air and the sound of birds chirping in the trees creates a natural zen environment. There is something so peaceful about sitting in a quiet park and taking a step back from a fast paced life. Every time I visit a park I feel happier and more relaxed when I leave.

Secret Beaches

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If you live near the ocean, I’m sure you’re familiar with the local beaches. But do you know all of small, secret beaches that aren’t crowded with a million umbrellas and coolers?

I am living on Cape Cod for the summer and I have started to discover multiple tiny beaches that are nearly empty. Most don’t even have parking lots and consist of a tiny path on the side of the road that leads to a little slice of heaven.

These beaches can be tricky to look up online because people like keeping their secret sanctuaries private, so doing field research may be your best bet. They are usually close to public beaches, unmarked and down a side road. Getting to them is an adventure in itself but once you reach the destination the serenity is well worth the journey. If there isn’t a sign that says “Private Property,” put your towel down and make yourself at home.

One of my favorite “private” beaches on Cape Cod.

When you find a place like this, shhhhh! It’s a secret beach for a reason!

Give your tastebuds something new and different

Coconut latte from Jaho Coffee

One of my favorite things to do over the summer is try to find the hidden gems of the food world. They are everywhere! So many restaurants in the U.S. are inspired by places all across the world, bringing an international food experience right to your hometown. Yelp is a great place to start and gives a reliable outline of what kinds of dishes to expect. It is particularly helpful to read reviews of dishes you aren’t used to before making the trip.

I like branching out to find different food because it is easy to get sick of the same things. I fell in love with Indian cuisine through my summer research and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to go to somewhere so new and different with so many amazing flavors I have never experienced before. My taste buds were happily surprised.

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Picky eaters can enjoy new food too, most places can create dishes that are fairly mild if that is what you’re comfortable with. No matter what kind of cuisine you are trying, try to choose something on the menu that sounds different and exciting. If you discover you really like it, try making it yourself at home! Fill this summer with new food adventures and maybe discover a new love for cooking.

Grabbing some friends and visiting a funky place for dinner is an awesome adventure and summer is the perfect time for it.

Unusual Sports

The category of sports encompasses a lot more than baseball and football. No running is involved, just fun! Whether it’s ziplining, whitewater rafting or bubble soccer, there are many wacky activities out there to try this summer.  

One place I have really been wanting to go the past year or so is a treetop adventure park near my house. Definitely find one of these places near you if you want to feel like a monkey! This park is a course of ziplines, tightropes, rope walls and more. It has been built in the woods so you really feel like you’re a tree animal! I went ziplining once before in New Hampshire and absolutely loved it and I am yearning to check this place out.

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Bubble soccer is another funny one that has become somewhat recreational in the Boston area. Once you put on the “bubble” you look like a hamster ball with legs. It is hilarious to watch but looks like it would be so much fun to try. There are locations and variations of this activity all across the U.S. and it would be perfect to rent some for a party, or just for fun with friends!

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The Zoo

The zoo is so underrated. I absolutely love the zoo. You can find me there, standing next to a seven year old, just as excited as they are to see the giraffes walking around. They are fairly cheap to visit and showcase amazing, exotic creatures.

If you live near Washington D.C., the Smithsonian National Zoo is free!! It also happens to be the best zoo I have ever been to…they have giant pandas, lions, elephants, and so much more.

Giant Panda at the Smithsonian Zoo.

The zoo is a great summer day trip, and I definitely recommend going on a weekday if you can because it is a lot less crowded and easier to get up close to all of the animals. Some zoos also allow you to bring in your own food and drinks, so you can save money by packing snacks from home.

In addition to the zoo, go to the aquarium! So many beautifully colored fish, penguins, seals, and other water creatures that are amazing to see up close. The aquarium is a perfect adventure for a rainy day.

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I hope this list helps you kickstart an amazing, adventurous, memorable summer. (:

 

Beauty of European Dining

Three hour meals are rare in the United States, but a European staple.

I spent this past semester in the Netherlands and every day was filled with magic and adventure. I can honestly say that I learned more about myself in 90 days than I have in my entire life. One of the biggest cultural differences that I miss about Europe is the dining routine. Eating a quick meal is considered rude in many cities and leisurely dining is more widely accepted.

Continue reading “Beauty of European Dining”

Un Aventure En France

When I landed in the Marseille airport, I had no earthly idea what would be in store for me throughout my first three weeks of travel in the beautiful and mysterious south of France. There was so much I had yet to learn. I didn’t know that there are €1 and €2 coins that replace small bills, nor could I have anticipated still finding them in my purse weeks after returning to The States. I also didn’t know just how challenging it would be to assimilate into French culture.

Many little things added up to produce that low hanging cloud of confusion that followed me around in the beginning: there was no ginger ale in any of the bars or restaurants, nor was there any brewed iced tea (the closest thing, to my disappointment, was peach Lipton in a can). In the little apartment that I stayed in with my host, the toilet and the shower were in separate rooms. Shop keepers expect a prompt bonjour upon entry, and it’s considered rude if you neglect to say so. Upon departing, you kindly wish each other bon journée. 99% of the time when colloquial phrases are forgotten or misused, the French will not fail to remind you. One common misconception in America is that bonjour means hello, even though it actually translates to “good day.” There were countless times that I forgot that small fact and stupidly said bonjour past 5 o’clock–at which point I was answered with a cheeky “bon soir!”and a twinkle of the eye.

Still, not all surprises were uncomfortable. To my endless amusement, the French actually do say “ooh la la” — in varying dialects ranging anywhere from Parisian to Marseillais. Most afternoons they sit for an aperitif, an afternoon nip of alcohol. In Aix-en-Provence where I stayed, this was usually rosé or champagne, accompanied by some bread or crackers and olives. Being so close to Italy, the olives are sublime. The ice cream, too, always gelato, is absolutely magnificent. Sadly, this prevents me from enjoying it in America to the extent that I used to. There were marvelous Provençal flavors like violet, amarena (a delicious blend of cherry jam and creamy, milk ice cream), and of course lavande, the smell of which seems to permeate the entire countryside.

Something I will sorely miss is the ease of communication the French have with strangers. People sitting close to each other in restaurants speak freely–even in the street, it is common to strike up conversation with passers by. Despite my unsophisticated French, I rarely felt nervous to ask questions of people I didn’t know. Not everyone was nice, but a majority were more than happy to speak with a foreigner. Some would even compliment us on our good French, even if there were a few grammatical mistakes mixed in.

If I close my eyes and transport myself back to Aix-en-Provence, I can still smell the roses as I walk down the streets of the La Vieille Ville, the ancient part of town that looked like it hadn’t changed in 400 years. I can hear the sounds of the little city: the mossy fountains bubbling with a steady stream of water, the pitted patter of French puppy paws on their promenade, the slow, mellow ring of the cathedral bell.

 

Reverse Culture Shock: When Home Ain’t So Sweet

During the fall semester of my sophomore year of college, I had the opportunity to go abroad and study at Kasteel Well in the Netherlands. I was able to travel all around Europe and meet new people both in the classroom and through my adventures. I stayed in hostels, apartments, and even with a friend’s distant cousin. I tried new food and drinks and even ended up with front row seats at a fashion show. The three months went by in a blur and amidst all of the excitement, I made memories that will last me decades, if not a lifetime.

However, I spent a good chunk of my time abroad feeling homesick. Although not much had changed with my family, it seemed like every time I talked to my friends, there was a new story that I wasn’t a part of. I couldn’t help but feel like there was a disconnect and it wasn’t just because our video chat kept buffering. I reassured myself that this was temporary and that when I returned in January, things would go back to normal as if I had never left.

For the first few days, this was partly true. My friends were all really eager to hear about my experiences and catch me up on theirs. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel awkward talking about Europe. No matter how much I tried to explain something, it seemed like they would never really understand, which makes sense, because I felt changed but I didn’t know how to express that using words.

I was a different person in a familiar place that didn’t feel so familiar anymore. I knew my friends’ lives weren’t going to stop just because I went abroad, but I couldn’t help feeling like I just didn’t fit in anymore. It would take months for me to finally get past this reverse culture shock and readjust to my life as a college student living in Boston.

Defining Reverse Culture Shock

Although many people have heard of the culture shock someone has when entering a new country, a lot less people know about the reverse culture shock someone experiences when they return home after being abroad for a period of time. In an article for Expatica.com, Robin Pascoe sums up this experience best. She says, “[Reverse culture shock] is when you feel like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right.” It’s as if things have changed, but at the same time, not at all.

Students often experience reverse culture shock when they are unable to pick back up where there left off once they return home. This can result from an idealized version of home and the expectation of familiarity. According to StudentsAbroad.com, “A problem arises when reality doesn’t meet these expectations. Home may fall short of what you had envisioned, and things may have changed at home: your friends and family have their own lives, and things have happened since you’ve been gone. This is part of why home may feel so foreign.” This leads many students to feel frustrated, alienated, and misunderstood. It’s these festering feelings that cause reverse culture shock to kick in.

Reverse culture shock can be broken down into four stages: disengagement, initial euphoria, irritability, and readjustment.

  1. Disengagement: This stage occurs right before the student embarks to return home. They are packing their bags and getting excited to be reunited with their family and friends. For me, on top of packing and preparing, I also had to spend the last few days of my time abroad studying and taking my final exams. As a result, I didn’t fully feel like I savored my last moments in the Netherlands. It all went by so fast and I was on the plane heading home before I knew it.
  2. Initial Euphoria: The second stage is initial euphoria which is kind of like the honeymoon stage. It can occur during pre-departure when the student is psyching themselves up about returning home and also when they finally get home. They reconnect with their family and friends who are excited to hear all about the stories and experiences they had while they were away.
  3. Irritability: The third stage is characterized by feelings of loneliness and isolation. According to StudentsAbroad.com, “You might quickly become irritated or critical of others and of U.S. culture. Depression, feeling like a stranger at home and the longing to go back abroad are also not uncommon reactions. You may also feel less independent than you were in the country of your choice.” Once the student is able to work through these emotions, either through outside help or just a gradual transition, they will move onto the final stage of readjustment.
  4. Readjustment: The last stage is readjustment and it can take up to six months to finally reach. I know for me, I was unable to readjust the entire second semester that I was back at school. It wasn’t until everyone came back from summer break to start the new school year that I finally felt like I was part of the group again. Although, it took me towards the longer end of the spectrum, it may take others only a month or two.

So, How Do You Cope With It?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question and it may just be trial and error. What worked for me may not work for someone else, but here are a few tips that might be worth a try.

Write about it. Whether it’s a blog post, song, or poem, it may help to just put your experience down on paper. Validate your own feelings! It is understandable to feel misunderstood when you return home from abroad. Especially, if you feel like your friends and family are sick of hearing about your travels, this could be a way to share those experiences with others who may be interested. Writing these stories down will also help you remember your time abroad and keep it fresh in your mind. I wrote a few blog posts about my experience and it was great to hear from others who could relate and provide me with honest support, especially about the homesickness I felt while away.

Remind yourself that it is okay that you have changed. It’s very likely your values and views of the world have changed during your time abroad and that’s okay. Learn to accept this and also learn to accept that it may mean that some of your friendships have changed as well. Remain true to yourself and be open to continuing the friendships you forged while abroad and on that note…

Keep in touch with your friends from abroad. If anyone can relate to what you’re going through, it’s them! This doesn’t mean you have to ditch your old friends, but it may be nice to reconnect with friends who recognize “this different you” and will most likely not get sick of hearing of your stories from abroad. Although, I can’t guarantee anything about that last part!

Stay international and stay curious. It may seem like your adventure is over and it may be boring being at home, but don’t forget that adventures can be had even in your small town or city. Explore a part of your state you’ve never been to or take a trip to a different state entirely. There’s plenty to discover in your own country. Adventure doesn’t always mean going to a new one. So try to find excitement in the little things and see them in a new way.

It’s Going to Be Okay!

Reverse culture shock sucks. On top of feeling isolated and just downright sad, there’s also a feeling of guilt that comes with it. There were many nights I simply felt like it was wrong to be having all of these negative feelings. Was it my fault? Was I just not trying hard enough? How would things be different if I never went abroad in the first place? I thought it would never get better, but towards the end of last semester I began seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and now I finally feel like part of the group. It’s as if I had never left.

I am so thankful for my time abroad and although readjusting has been its own journey in a way, I know if I had the opportunity to do it all over, I wouldn’t change a thing. That being said, let’s start talking about reverse culture shock, because there is nothing shameful about struggling to get back into the routine of home. And perhaps, if we prepared students a little better, it wouldn’t even be as much of struggle in the first place.

 

Learning the Forgotten History of Boston’s West End

When people think of neighborhoods in downtown Boston, they think of the North End, the South End, Chinatown and Beacon Hill. When I heard of the “West End” of Boston, I wasn’t even sure if it existed.

Because it doesn’t.

Of course, the area of land that is the West End still exists, but there is no longer a neighborhood. Instead, the space is home to complexes that take up vast tracts of land, such as the Mass General Hospital and the TD Garden.

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So what happened?

A complicated but ultimately devastating political movement called “urban renewal” occurred in the 1950s, which explains why many cities in America look the way they do now. Urban renewal is “the redevelopment of areas within a large city, typically involving the clearance of slums.” Boston embraced this movement, particularly in two areas: the West End and Scollay Square (what is now Government Plaza). It’s hard to imagine what these places look like to what we immediately know; the equivalent of these neighborhoods is the North End, which was spared from the razing.

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By City of Boston Archives, “West End Urban Renewal Project sign”, https://goo.gl/uVuz5r

I had never known this chapter of our city’s history and always assumed things were just the way they were. Looking up pictures of the West End in its original form, I see a completely unrecognizable village, featuring the brick built homes that give Boston its character. Observing the before and after pictures of the urban renewal policies shows the scope of destruction. The only remnant of the “Old West End” is a single tenement. It stands at 42 Lomasney Way. 500 feet from the building is the West End Museum, a museum dedicated to preserving the history of the neighborhood. The exhibit I visited, “The Last Tenement,” tells the story of how an entire community dwindled down to a deserted flat.

by City of Boston Archives, "56-62 Leverett Street", https://goo.gl/M85JZq
by City of Boston Archives, “56-62 Leverett Street”, https://goo.gl/M85JZq

At the entrance of the room, the introductory sign asks its patrons a few questions. What makes a neighborhood and what makes a slum? What makes a community? How do local values and public policy interact with each other? How do cities come to make decisions? All of these questions are answered in the tragedy of the West End.

For most of its existence, the West End was a haven for Boston’s “undesirables.” These areas were home to lower-class Bostonians and immigrants: Irish, Italians, Jews and various nationalities from Eastern Europe all lived side by side. Something that was completely unknown to me was that the West End was home to a number of free black residents, starting in the late 18th century. Between the years 1876 to 1895, at least one black resident from the West End served in Boston’s community council. The information was enlightening, especially since the stories of black Bostonians are a component of the city’s history that are too often overlooked.

by the Boston Public Library, "West End Branch - story hour", https://goo.gl/3Ezyxo
by the Boston Public Library, “West End Branch – story hour”, https://goo.gl/3Ezyxo

The museum does its best to humanize those who were residents, to show that this was once a place where real people made their lives. Trophies from sports clubs are on display in a glass case, bulletins from the social clubs are framed and pictures of kids in classrooms are shown in grainy black and white. There is heavy emphasis on what makes a community: active church life, the importance of the corner store, a sense of belonging despite differences. One sign jokes how Greek Jews and Russian Jews complained about each other, while the Italian Catholics had their opinions on Irish Catholics; but when confronted with outsiders, they stood united in their shared West End identity.

by the Boston Public Library, "Christmas and Hanukah at the Boston Public Library's West End Branch", https://goo.gl/CljC0X
by the Boston Public Library, “Christmas and Hanukah at the Boston Public Library’s West End Branch”, https://goo.gl/CljC0X

Alas, they could not stand against the larger forces in the city and federal government that were determined to destroy them. While the process of urban renewal is perplexing and dense to tell, the museum manages to explain the neighborhood’s demise. Important historical events such as the middle class flight from the city, the Housing Act of 1949 and decaying buildings all contributed to the razing of the town. What surprised me most was that initially most West Enders did not fight the demolitions, because they had been promised housing in the “new West End.” Thus, there was no major protests or outrage from residents. Only when their tenements had been destroyed did they realize they would never be able to return home.

by City of Boston Archives, "[Unidentified location in West End, near Massachusetts General Hospital]", https://goo.gl/52A2xH
by City of Boston Archives, “[Unidentified location in West End, near Massachusetts General Hospital]”, https://goo.gl/52A2xH
Of course, Boston as a city has changed significantly over time since it was founded in 1630. Even the exhibit noted how the West End went from a collection of marshes, to Yankee townhouses, to immigrant settlement homes. Cities are ever changing organisms and should embrace their role of being places where transformations can flourish; whether they be technological, political or social.

Some may wonder at the purpose of such discussions when these issues are clearly a matter of the past. Yes, cities should embrace change; but the nature of how cities change should be decided by the citizens that call it home. These discussions are especially relevant now, in Boston and all over America, when gentrification is becoming a major determinant of change in urban life. Who gets to to be a part of the conversation and who gets left out? As the lessons learned in the West End shows, including residents in the process is absolutely vital to creating thriving cities and happy citizens.

The West End Museum is located at 150 Staniford St, Boston, MA 02114. It is open to the public from 12-5 PM Monday-Friday. Admission is free.