After 362 days spent in France, it became more than just a “study abroad.” I met lifelong friends, formed long-lasting relationships, got a job, created daily routines — I started growing roots in France.
While still far from fluent, stumbling my way along with finally conversational yet broken French, I wasn’t a tourist or a study abroad student anymore. In the mornings I would go to the corner bakery, during the day I would go to various English tutoring and nannying jobs, and in the evening I would pick out dinner from various shops along the street.
However, as the months went along after school ended, people, one-by-one, started to leave. First, the other exchange students in May, then the family for whom I was au-pairing left for a three-month long summer vacation starting in June, then the last remanding exchange students who decided to stay for the summer started to dwindle away in July.
August rolled around and there I was going about my daily activities which had become so routine, so normal at that point, and I realized I had only a couple of weeks left. Getting to the airport was somewhat surreal, going through security was a breakdown. As I walked through the metal detector, crying, I made it buzz. As I tried to keep my watery eyes hidden, the nice French security guard asked me (as she patted me down), “Vous êtes triste?” (Are you sad?). Embarrassed, yet touched by the very personal, not so American style airport security pat-down, I replied, “Oui.” I had become so acclimated to the life, culture, and people in France that on my way back to the U.S., I had almost the same anxieties as I had had when leaving the U.S. to come to France for a year: but this time, I felt like I was returning to a foreign country.
I have now been back in the U.S. for a couple of weeks, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the year that I was able to spend abroad. I miss France, especially some of the people, and of course the croissants and pastries, but coming back to the U.S. after a year away has also made me realize how great the U.S. is, too! And, at the end of the day, it feels like home.
One of the things I loved about France is that it was so much easier to start a conversation with a stranger, or a clerk, or a waitress, because being foreign is an instant conversation starter. The clerk at the local grocery store always remembered me, and we always had little conversations, because there was something different about me — I was the young American girl who mumbled and bumbled her way through the French language. Being noticed and being remember was nice, and made trips to the grocery store much more enjoyable. Yet, being in the U.S., seeing faces of life-long friends, the familiarity, the comfort of ‘home’ is incredibly peaceful.
Studying abroad in France is something that I knew I always wanted to do, but, getting there wasn’t a cake walk. It took planning, financial struggles, and a lot of stress. Yet, despite the costs, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Studying abroad is not just traveling, it’s not just being a tourist, it’s not just being a student, it’s not just living in a foreign country — to study abroad is to throw yourself into a new world and just figure it out (and probably end up loving what you find and who you become). It’s like being a baby, but in a big person body, with extremely accelerated development.
I think I’ll be back to France one of these days, maybe short-term, maybe long-term. But for now, I am going to enjoy the U.S. more so than ever, because I have learned more about myself, and about my country, thanks to being abroad.
To my friends and those with whom I remain deeply connected in France and Europe, thank you for everything you have done for me.
À bientôt, Chelsea.
P.S. Thank you to the pastry chefs of France, for making my experience out-of-this-world delicious.