From the castle to Boston: What happens to home when you’re abroad?


Courtesy of Sophie Pargas

Courtesy of Sophie Pargas

By Sophia Pargas, Editor-in-Chief

As I stared out at the descending Miami skyline on my first flight back to Boston since December 2022, unease rumbled in my ribcage like the engine of the Delta Boeing 737 surrounding me. Apprehension, nervousness and excitement crowded the already-cramped economy seat, weighing atop me and claiming their spots as unwanted baggage. I was on my way to begin my first semester back to school since going abroad, and I had no clue what to expect. 

The last time I felt even remotely similar, I was on a one-way flight from Boston to Amsterdam where my Kasteel Well study abroad program would begin. From there, I’d board a bus that would take me to a 14th-century castle I’d call home for 90 days. Though it was an experience straight out of a fairytale, I could not shake the unwavering feeling that I was making a mistake. 

As Boston Logan International slowly faded into the distance and Amsterdam became closer by the second, I wondered if I was leaving behind more than just a city, but a life that I adored—one I had built for myself from the ground up. Amidst seatbelt signs and overpacked carry-ons and strangers fated to be friends, I questioned if life as I knew it would ever be the same. 

Upon coming back to school and sparking conversations about Kasteel Well with peers who have yet to experience it, I’ve found this fear of change is not exclusive to me. Mention of the program often elicited similar reservations from those who were considering signing up or chose not to for this exact reason.  

“I wanted to go to the castle but I was afraid I’d miss Boston too much.” 

“You went to the castle? I’m considering it, but I don’t want to miss out on anything when I’m gone.”

“How has it been coming back? Are things the same as they were before you left?” 

What I’ve come to learn since is that things aren’t entirely the same, and that’s okay. No aspect of life would look or feel or be the same. And how could it? I am not the same person I was on that plane six months ago, and I’m glad for it. 

While things in Boston may not be exactly how they were before, studying abroad offered me an experience that shook my identity and challenged everything I once was. It made me into the kind of person who is open to change, and who is excited to rebuild and reimagine the life I left behind. 

As someone who moved from Miami to Boston to attend Emerson and knew not a single soul coming in, I had the unique opportunity of a complete and utter fresh start. Freshman year was a constant internal battle: Who do I want to be? What kind of people do I want to associate myself with? What kind of life do I want to create for myself here? I had a clean slate, and I did not take that reality for granted. 

Over the span of a year and a half, I crafted my life here with the most delicate and gentle of hands. I took pride in the way I carried myself, more confident and more outspoken than I was back home, and I found the people who brought out the best in me, friends who I felt grateful to have every day. Though it was not always easy, I had finally felt like life was exactly how it was always meant to be. 

Just as this contentment and comfort settled around my soul, my inbox reminded me that sometimes the best things in life come when you least expect it. 

“Congratulations, you have been accepted into the Kasteel Well Spring 2022 Program.” 

Or, as I read it, “Congratulations, your entire life is about to get flipped upside down.” 

And it did. Even despite the fear and worry, I knew there was no denying an opportunity like this one. The question was never if I was going to go, but what I’d be risking by doing so. 

Nevertheless, I enjoyed that fall in Boston to the fullest, making as many memories as I could and cherishing every moment I had with the city and people I love. The closer it got to the end of the semester, the more excited I was for my next journey, but the more I feared leaving my current one. Packing my bags and leaving my suite in Piano Row, I felt as if I were leaving something behind unfinished, like there was more I was meant to experience but just not enough time. 

The next few months seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. My double in Piano Row was replaced with a quad at the top of a 14th-century tower, and the countless days I’d spent with my friends were traded for occasional FaceTime calls and text messages. While we tried to keep in touch as much as possible, the six hour time difference and life-changing excursions around the world made connections few and far between. 

They had their lives and I had mine, and I like to think we all enjoyed celebrating each other’s friendships from a distance, finding comfort in knowing we’d all have the next two years to rekindle and reunite.

And that is exactly what we did come September. While I once wished I would be able to say everything picked up exactly how it left off before I left, this simply wasn’t the case. Things were a little more clumsy, a little more awkward, a little less natural than they had once been. 

New friends had joined old circles, and I often worried my absence was scarcely felt and easily replaced. Constantly, I reminded myself that just as I had met new people and made new memories that were singular to me, my friends were allowed to do the same. 

For a while, though, I struggled to find my new place and stressed about overstepping my welcome, unsure of how to acclimate naturally and without force. I was surrounded by some of the best friends I’ve ever known, yet felt an unshakeable loneliness and an unnerving dread that maybe all my fears were not for nothing. 

In my first month back in Boston, however, these emotions have begun to retreat slowly, gently, and peacefully. Just as time apart is what made me doubt my place, time together is what has made me feel like I belong once more. 

I’ve been reminded of why I chose such amazing friends to begin with, and am grateful for the opportunity to grow in a deeper closeness with them. The experience made me appreciate every moment with the people I love, and made me more attuned to little moments that now mean more than ever. 

And most of all, my time abroad taught me to be independent, confident, and fearless. Without the 90 days spent traveling the world and living out my youth to its absolute fullest, I never would have come to understand  that life is meant to be lived day by day. They taught me that there is adventure in every crack and crevice of life, and has shown me that the most beautiful moments come when we let go and trust the process. 

Going abroad and coming back has not been much different than taking a flight; the takeoff was fast, abrupt, and a little panic-inducing, but the landing has been smooth, slow and reassuring. After a short pitstop, I’m back at my final destination and am looking forward to not picking up where I left off, but reimagining and recreating what is yet to be.