Home for the holidays
The classic holiday song "I'll be home for Christmas" might be a bit more meaningful to the Bossuyt family this year.
Rachel Bossuyt, 24, the middle daughter of Jeff and Chanda Bossuyt of Ghent, arrived home on Friday following an approximate nine-hour flight and will spend her first Christmas in the U.S. in three years because she has been studying abroad in various countries.
"It's nice to have the whole family together for Christmas," said Jeff, referring to Rachel joining her parents, older sister Alyssa Jeppesen and younger sister Marci Bossuyt, and other family members.
Chanda said she came across a post on the internet that read: The only thing harder than being a kid waiting for Christmas to come is being a mom waiting for your kid to come home for Christmas.
"That is so true," Chanda said.
Rachel, wearing a hoodie with "Home for the Holidays" written on the front, looked right at home sitting on the floor in front of the family Christmas tree playing with the Bossuyts' new shelter dog, Olive. Asked how it felt to be with family for Christmas, she looked up with a smile and stated "It feels really good."
Rachel currently lives in Lund in Sweden, a city of 92,000 as she studies at Lund University. She spent the two previous years in Slovakia, while also studying abroad in other countries.
"I love traveling around to different countries," she said. "I've been in more countries (17) than I have been in states (five)."
Rachel graduated from Marshall High School in 2015 and then attended the University of Minnesota and earned her Bachelor's Degree.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do after graduating from the University of Minnesota, and a family friend recommended that I apply to an English teaching program through the ELCA," she said. "So, I got a position as an English conversation teacher."
After spending two years in Slovakia, she is now studying for a Master's Degree in Human Rights in Sweden.
"I knew my time in Slovakia was coming to an end and I wanted to get a Master's Degree," Rachel said. "But trying to take the GRE while in a different country seemed very difficult. So, I applied to Sweden instead."
Although she has made it back home for a portion of the summer the past two years, her last time home for Christmas was 2018.
"I had not planned on coming home during 2019 as flights are expensive and I wanted to experience Christmas in Europe," she explained. "Because I had studied abroad in Denmark, I knew that Christmas markets were something I wanted to see. I actually also ended up flying out to Japan with a friend to visit some friends who were stationed there for a few days."
Last year, the pandemic made things difficult for people to travel.
"The pandemic was a big reason I didn't want to come home in 2020," said Rachel. "Slovakia had some fairly strict restrictions at the time, and I would have had to travel to Austria to fly out, so trying to travel seemed like too much. On the plus side, I got to experience Slovak Christmas."
Being out of the United States can also make someone realize the things they miss back home besides family and friends.
"Especially when you can't find the ingredients to make the food you want to," Rachel told. "I had a Christmas party with some friends before I flew home and I wanted to make Star/Hershey Kiss cookies because it's something my family has a lot. But I couldn't find Hershey Kisses. I can't even make Tator tot hotdish because I can't find cream of mushroom soup."
Rachel will be home for a couple of weeks before flying out of the Twin Cities on Jan. 5 to return to Sweden.
"I am really not good at planning things out more than a few years in advance," she said, "but I will for sure be in Sweden until 2023. I don't have plans to move back to the United States even after I graduate. I have always wanted to live abroad, so, that is something I hope to continue to do."
The Bossuyts open gifts on Christmas morning each year and when Rachel was living at home, she perennially was the first one up to open gifts.
"I'm sure she will be the first one up again this year," Chanda noted. "It doesn't seem like it's been three years since she was here for Christmas, but we are so grateful to have her home."
"I would wake up first and then I would lay on the couch by the tree so I could be first," she laughed. "I am really excited to celebrate at home again this year. I also know that my family, particularly my grandparents, are really excited, which is also nice."
When Jeff and Chanda, who were seated on the couch, looked down on the floor where Rachel was sitting, they likely realized that Santa had brought their gift early ... their daughter was home for Christmas.