Well, that’s it.
After a stressful check-in (apparently the carry-on weight limit is 12 kilos, so I had to leave a bag with my host mother to mail back to me), I got on the first plane and sat in front of a screaming toddler and her mother who was hyperventilating into a sick bag. The entire voyage can’t be like this, I thought. As we took off, it hit me— I am officially leaving. I am no longer on French soil. That view from the plane window is the last I’ll see of Marseille for an indefinite amount of time. So, naturally, I start crying.
These French stweardesses, this French air magazine, this is really the last time I’ll be surrounded by the language I love so much. Once I leave, French goes back to being a hobby. This was only confirmed when I got to the Schipol airport in Amsterdam, where all the signs are in English and I had to speak English just to buy a bottle of water. How depressing.
Of course, even though I’m going home and even though I will no longer be speaking French 24/7, everything will be different at home. The experiences I had and the knowledge I have gained will always be with me. I will never look at certain things the same way again. The way I think, the way I communicate, have been enriched by my time abroad. I have become so self-aware and interculturally aware in the past 4 months. Like Lilli (the AUCP director) said to us on the second-to-last day, this experience will shape and direct the rest of our lives. We will forever be drawn to the international, to the adventure.
I wrote all that in the Schipol airport, fighting back tears and sleepiness, absolutely terrified to go back to the real world, yet trying to stay positive and reflective. As I watched the Welcome to the USA video in the passport line at Boston Logan, I felt a warm and familiar connection to the country waiting for me just beyond those doors. I have to say that for the first few days it was so nice to be home with my family. Strangely, I feel closer to them than ever. Maybe it’s because I’m an “adult" now, or because being under the same roof of my parents has become a rarity. Spending most of the past three years away (and the past 4 months even farther) from my family makes me appreciate them that much more.
Nevertheless, that dreaded " reverse culture shock" has to hit eventually. My first culture shock was at Chipotle. I had begged my family to take me there for dinner since I had missed Mexican food in France, but I was completely in awe at the size of the “small" drinks. Those cups are enormous! Who would want to drink that much soda?! From there, I went grocery shopping with my mom. It was there that the jet lag really set in. I was so overwhelmed. Aisle after aisle, product after product, brand after brand, sale signs and clearance bins… I was actually exhausted after a few minutes. Next came American TV. American commercials are SO annoying! And why does every store need to commercialize Memorial Day? How are there this many reality tv shows? I kind of liked watching my favorite shows dubbed in French, it’s more interesting and challenging.
What about reverse homesickness for France? I definitely miss it, but I’d say I’m nostalgic in a good way. I love sharing photos and stories, I love revisiting the memories. I know I’m not in France anymore, but it’s like my special place that I can go to in my mind. I’m happy and grateful for my experience abroad, not depressed because it’s over. I just want to keep it alive: French films, conversations with my dad and French-speaking friends, my internship, the international community at UMW, who knows?
I’m a mix of nervous and excited to get back to my life in Fredericksburg. I’m impatiently waiting to see my friends again. But I want to share everything with them, and I know they’ll get bored of it. An experience abroad is something you can only relate to if you’ve done it yourself, and even then those experiences can be drastically different. I’m sure I will have a new perspective in my international relations classes in the fall. I’m going to come across as a know-it-all in my French class. Does the Arabic I learned in France sync up with the UMW class I missed?
I’m just so happy that I got to study abroad. I visited places I never thought I’d visit, I made lifelong friends, I used parts of my brain I had never had to use before, I learned to understand and appreciate other cultures. I have gained invaluable knowledge that has expanded the way I think, analyze, and communicate. And I know that one day, I will make it back to France!