And Just Like That: Back Home in Cali

Headshot of Emma Basco.
Emma Basco
June 15, 2023

By the very last week, I was ready to come home. Two of my finals were due the Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, before I was to catch a 9 a.m. flight on Saturday morning. Fortunately, they were take-home and online, but I couldn’t stand to complete them in my room, because my mind would wander away to thinking about all of my stuff I had to pack into two suitcases: all of the clothes I’d accumulated over the course of eight months, new clothes I brought for the spring, the winter clothes I left behind, four pairs of shoes, my huge jackets, my art supplies, the museum postcards hanging off my bulletin board, the used English books I bought and stacked to one side of my desk, the gifts I’d received from the wonderful people I’d met and to whom I would soon have to say goodbye.

The week before the last week was one of the best weeks of the semester, and that is what I choose to remember about spring in Amsterdam. Not the hours I wasted away in Coffee Company finishing just about the most stressful exam I’ve ever done. Not the forcing myself into the Social Hub communal kitchen for the thousandth time to make my breakfast as fast as possible with the least stained dishes I could find in the still dripping drying rack. No, as I write this, I reminisce about the long, sweaty days of Amsterdam in the spring, spread out on a picnic blanket by the creek fizzing with sunlight, biking to the burrito place on Overtoom dappled in the golden remnants of a 9pm sunset, waking up to the sun so high it feels like noon, and then people-watching from the bench in front of Boes and Beis, eating convenience store croissants.

One of the hardest things about this semester was the finality in every moment. This is the last time I will lay in Erasmus park, I would think to myself with crushing pre-nostalgia, watching people meander around the buzzing flower garden, stretch out beneath the bursting topiaries, throw parties under the shade of the giant, flowering trees. One of the first things I did in Amsterdam first semester was walk through Erasmus Park with a group of IES Abroad kids whose names I hardly knew yet, ordered a sandwich at the little drink and snack stand at the southwest corner, and sat at the long, wooden tables making small talk. I remember the strange, tickling sensation of Erasmus Park slowly becoming familiar to me over the year, until I biked past those wooden benches for the last time, slipping briefly back in time to see my wide-eyed self sitting among strangers, eating a sandwich in a park in Amsterdam, in the early days of fall. 

This is the last time I will go out with my friends to the jazz cafe, I would think to myself, recalling the first time we stumbled upon a great night at Cafe Alto, and swore we would be there every week. On that last night at Alto, I peeked into the pizza restaurant next door where, just in February, a whole lot of us (people who would become lifelong friends) crammed into quite an extensive booth to fill up on pasta, laughing and talking around mouthfuls without knowing that, in three short months, some goodbyes will be said just outside, in the middle of the street, on a warm, breezy May night.

This is the last time I will bike this route, I would think to myself, cruising down Jan Evertsenstraat on my little rental, recognizing every street corner, knowing where each turn would take me, creating my own shortcuts through the park, until I handed over the bike and the keys to the people at A-Bike as if I’d just rented it for a day. “See you later!” they called after me.

I admit how lucky I was in the fall. Amid everyone’s heartfelt goodbyes, my sadness at leaving Amsterdam was somewhat lessened by the fact that I knew I would be back in just a month. A lot of my fall friends gushed over how they wished they could stay longer, especially since everyone was leaving at the peak of the cold, the wind, and the rain. I left grateful I would return for the season when the days get progressively warmer, not colder. At the same time, I was sad to think about how different spring would be without the people who made my first experience of Amsterdam unforgettable. Amsterdam wouldn’t be the same without them, I thought to myself, and I was right in a way. 

Amsterdam was a much different city this semester, and I’ve written about this before, but that noticeable difference has everything to do with the person I was when I arrived back in January, all of the people I met, got close with, drifted apart from, fell in love with. It has to do with the elongated days, the sweet energy generated on the streets by people sitting, laying, strolling, basking in the endless daylight.

 I remember packing up, despising the way the hotel room looks when everything has been zipped up, peeled away, unhooked, a reset leaving everything empty, like I wasn’t even there. I noticed the tree outside my window, whose bare peak I’d been able to see all semester, was finally boasting leaves. The trees along Jan Van Galenstraat, which prior to me leaving in December were brown, twiggy things, are now bursting with young leafy swathes, bright green against the dark, rain-soaked trunks. How much time has passed, how much change has occurred, finally struck me, and I am definitely still reeling from that final blow, that last goodbye, of Amsterdam.

I had been feeling it for a while, but noticeably after spring break, I felt the sharp downhill of the semester, the rapidly approaching end of my time in Amsterdam. All the pre-nostalgia I felt was like I could reach out and touch my future self who will miss Amsterdam so much, who will feel sensations of being abroad everywhere she goes from here on out.  And I do. It is easy for me to recall the smells, sounds, sensations of being in Amsterdam. It was a year in a lovely place that changed my life. And that's just not something you easily forget to miss. 

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Headshot of Emma Basco.

Emma Basco

My name is Emma Basco and I am originally from Sacramento, California. I am currently studying literature and writing at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. I love to read on the beach, doodle on post it notes, paint with watercolors, and unearth new cafes and restaurants. My hidden talent is that I can make an excellent pot of noodles from packaged ramen.

2022 Fall, 2023 Spring
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Sarah Lawrence College
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