I promised a reflection on my time abroad-and 4 months later it is finally here! The beginning is advice to future exchange students- after that is the good stuff!
When I was in France, I was homesick. A lot. I talked to my friends from the U.S almost every day, my family every other day, relied on social media to keep me in “the loop” of my senior year in my American high school etc. I spent a lot of time thinking about home, writing to people from home, or imagining my return. Everyone warns you of this before you go abroad-not just homesickness, but relying on home to make you feel at home when you aren’t. For anyone currently studying abroad or thinking about it: turn off your phone. delete social media. journal about your experiences in your host country. You can not pretend that you are home and abroad at the same time. When you are homesick: missing your best friends laugh, wondering what your boyfriend is doing, thinking about how thanksgiving was with your whole family together except you, seeing your friends post pictures of that great party or the last football game… whatever it is that is keeping your head at home… let it go.
My only mistake while abroad was thinking I needed to keep up with my life back home. It just can’t be done!
Text your parents “I need to stop living at home. I am here. I need to be here. I will talk to you if I absolutely have to, otherwise I will call you in a few weeks” It’s hard. Tell your best friend “I’m sorry I can’t be there with you. I miss you but I just can’t live in two places at once. I need to focus on being here and I will talk to you in a few weeks.”
Set aside 1 or 2 days a month (I know it seems like it’s not enough-but trust me/everyone… you need it!) dedicated to talking to everyone you want to from home, posting your new pictures, and to just embrace that this is not permanent. It’s not an easy task! I didn’t listen to anyone when they said you have to control how often you contact home, and it ended up creating a paradox in my head of what was real life. You wanted this experience. Live it. Home will be there the second you get back, and just like that your time abroad has come and gone.
Now. Enough advice. Back to my blog post.
I was homesick for home. And now I am homesick for my adventure. It was hard. It was mentally strenuous. It was emotional. It was challenging. But when I think back…life never had so much adventure. I got to walk down streets built hundreds and hundreds of years before America was even discovered, eat what some consider the best food in the world, make friendships with people from literally all over the world, learn the most romantic language there is, drink wine, eat bread, and just be.
These are things I miss more than anything. And things I am most thankful for in which I experienced last semester.
I don’t know if this needs explanation. The most magical place there is. The streets are full of baguettes and stilettos and tourists and 27 languages and love and gratitude.
Home away from home.
My host family was gracious enough to let me stay in this beautiful home. This is the place where I learned french. I played Modern Warfare while listening to my 16 year old, dear host brother, yell curse words at the TV I could only try to translate. I painted my nails while discussing France tabloids and fashion with my fabulous as french as can be host sister. Where I dried the dishes with my host mom, trying to explain the jean brand “Levis” is not pronounced “lehfeehz”. Where I sat down with my french pocket dictionary and my host dad explained every word or phrase I didn’t understand to me as best he could. Where I gained 10 pounds (I am not kidding) from the amazing, fresh, fatty, carby, buttery, sugary food my host mom made every single day. This is the house where I facetimed my family and friends and couldn’t keep a smile off of my face from my joy to see them for the first time since my departure. Where I cried over letters written to me. Where I begged and prayed for patience and grace in the months I had ahead of me. This is the house where I unpacked my suitcase and sat down and said to myself “Well, you made it…what have you gotten yourself into.” and where I repacked my suitcase five months later and sat down and said to myself “Well, you made it…just like that…it’s over.” This is the house that I wrote countless letters to countless people whom I loved, and felt so much pain yet so much joy in knowing it would be weeks before they would receive them. This is the house where I didn’t celebrate thanksgiving away from my family, and celebrated Christmas with ornaments I didn’t recognize and received goodies in shoes instead of stockings. This is the house where I ate way too much bread and stared like a deer in headlights from confusion. “Je n’ai pas compris” was my life slogan (English translation: I don’t understand). This is the house that I rewatched the entire series of Gossip Girl in french because my host sister had never heard of netflix before and wanted to see her favorite book made into a TV show (this was a special bond for us). This is the house that through all of the dinner table laughs and late night tears, became a home.
The town. Le puy en Velay.
I honestly don’t have words for what this town means to me. I have never seen a place more beautiful. I still dream about the many walks I had on those cobblestone streets. All of the walls and coins and chairs and steps and doorhandles that I left my fingerprints on. All of the different feelings I had-extreme happiness, extreme loneliness, sadness, excitement, hunger, fullness, confusion, and sometimes even the feeling that I was no longer a stranger. I felt myself walking down the street, sitting in a cafe, buying my daily pain au chocolat and espresso at the local boulangerie where I became a regular at…in those moments I felt just as much of a member of the community as any other person on the street. I bought way too many clothes and cappuccinos on these streets-and my credit card bill in January showed it. The streets where I made some of the best memories of my life with lifelong friends who I may not see for years and years to come (#Australian bestfriendsproblems) I miss this place so much. So so so so so much.
Pictures will do this. The last one is my favorite.
Oh. My. Gosh.
I met my friend soulmates. And they’re (all?) from Australia. I love America, I really do. But I think I’m an Aussie at heart because I swear these girls were the coolest people I have ever met and I wish I could see them every day of my life. I also met amazing people from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Spain, Italy, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Japan, Finland, Norway, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, etc. Like. It was seriously awesome.
My closest friends I met right in Le Puy. Marjorie, Veronique (lived with my host family as well), Sam, and Stephanie. Then on my trip to Colmar (see previous posts) I met even MORE cool Aussies-Sasha and Alex. Seriously all of these girls will be my friends for life.
Now, I also met really great french friends. But I’m just emphasizing that I made real friendships with those girls. I can’t express how much I miss them. The hardest thing I did by far was leave them in January. I’m most home/Francesick for them I think.
The most exhausting thing I have ever done and ever will do. 8am-6pm of classes in 100% french. I became tolerant to cigarette smoke, truly learned what it means to zone out, feel awkward, and follow people around since you have no clue what’s happening. I translated textbooks. Analyzed girls in the hallway to find the french teen style. Taught way too many people way too many english words.
But the school lunches were bomb. And I learned french. And I kind of made friends.
Just another thing I could never put into words. High school is weird enough- french high school is a whole other story.
So much grace. So much patience. So many laughs, so many late night heart to hearts, rants, and “I will miss you’s”. Thuy, my Vietnam-adopted french host sister, and Veronique, the other exchange student (from Australia) who lived with us for 6 weeks (aka my bestie/sister I love her).
Gosh these two. I have never learned so much or seen so much intelligence and ambition than from these two. And we know how to do a photoshoot.
Lyon, Colmar, St. Etienne, Clermont, and a village on the Swiss border so small it can’t be found on a map. Gosh France is beautiful.
I seriously could go on and on about how blessed and thankful I feel for this experience. And more than ever, after months to reflect, I feel like this is the best possible choice I could have made and the best way to spend (half of) my senior year. It was hard. But it was the greatest decision I have made thus far. I hope to have more adventures that could sum up to even half of the experience this journey was.
Thank you for reading and following along with me… and being patient for this final reflection post. Until the next adventure!