Archive for May, 2013

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Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

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Waves

Monday, May 27th, 2013

I have a student who has become a favorite of mine simply due to his ridiculous wave. He grins broadly, then yanks his arm back and forth so violently, that his elbow operating on a parallel plane, gets thrown in the other direction to the point where his arm is almost perpendicular to the ground.

I Forgot About the ‘Study’ Part of ‘Study Abroad’

Monday, May 27th, 2013
I returned from Rome with twelve days until my first final exam.  My next exam wasn't until May 4th, and my last one was on May 14th.  I had plenty of time to study for them, and plenty of time to focus on each one.  This time gap was both a blessing and my downfall.  While I had plenty of time to study, I also had plenty of time to procrastinate and think 'there's always tomorrow,' until eventually I had no tomorrows left before the exam.  I studied much more for my exams here than I would have for my exams at home - mostly because for all of my classes, my exams counted for forty percent or more of my entire grade.  At home, I had tests, quizzes, homework, and participation to buffer my grade.  Here, all I had was my essay and my exam.

All of my exams were essay exams, and all of them had three questions for me to answer.  That meant a total of nine essays for my finals.  This terrified me.  Despite how accustomed I was to writing essays for my final exams (being an English major), this was different.  Each essay counted for more than any essay exam I'd written at home in my overall grade.  Many of my fellow American friends were unconcerned - they just had to pass their exams for a pass/fail grade.  My letter grades actually count, and so I was completely and utterly terrified of these exams.  If I failed any of my exams, I would be asked to return in August to re-sit them - and who can afford a second plane trip to Scotland just to sit an exam?  I definitely can't, and I wasn't planning on coming back to take an exam.

So I sat myself down to study.  I attempted to study at the library three times before I gave up that location.  Everybody was studying there, and the mass amount of people was distracting me.  I would have had to get up at 7 AM every morning to get the library just as it opened to get a good spot, and I wasn't that dedicated.  So I locked myself into my room for hours at a time, trying to focus.  My first exam was Celtic Civilization, a largely history based class.  My brain was not wired to memorize historical facts, so this was the most difficult of my exams.  Add in my lack of any previous knowledge of Celtic history, and I felt entirely overwhelmed by the material.  But I kept on it, and eventually I began to feel better.  Nerves still gripped uncomfortably at my heart, but I was determined to do well on these exams.

April 29th arrived, and I found myself at the exam hall - this one was in the front foyer of one of the academic buildings on George Square campus.  They had pushed all the furniture to the side and lined desks and chairs all along the room.  We were told to put our bags at the side of the hall, and to have only our student ID, pens, and a bottle of water at our desk.  I had flashbacks to my AP exams in high school.  Not since then had I been asked to leave my bag at the edge of the room, such a show of mistrust.  I understood completely - there were at least three different exams taking place at the same time in this room, which meant far too many people likely to cheat given the opportunity.  But I still felt intimidated.  It was far different from what I'd become accustomed to at UMW.

The exam was two hours, and I used almost every minute.  By the time it was over, I felt a weight lift off my chest - one down, two to go.  And this one hadn't been as painful as I'd thought it would be.  I felt confident that I'd done well.  And with the first one done, I was far less nervous about the second.  They were not as horrible and terrifying as I'd thought before.

I studied for my Visualising Scotland exam much the same way I'd studied for my Celtic Civilization course - copying my notes, over and over again.  The act of reading the words, hearing them in my head, and writing them down helped immensely in my studies.  May 4th came and went, and with it my second exam.  A different building, but the same layout - a huge room filled with rows and rows of desks and chairs, three different class's exams taking place at the same time.  This had been two hours long, with three essays to write, and easier than my first exam.  I breezed through it and joined my friends afterwards for a celebratory lunch at the student center - two down, one to go (for me - many of my friends had just begun their exams by the time I finished on May 14th).

Next was Scottish Literature - my strength, being an English major.  I'd read the books, I understood the themes - now I just had to do a little extra reading for the exam.  And I was immensely grateful for that extra reading come exam day - I used one of the books I'd read extensively on my exam.  This one was three hours long, with three essays to write, and I finished with half an hour to spare.  This extra time was spent looking over my essays, adding in bits I'd missed or felt needed to be said.  I'd promised myself when I started studying in April that I would not leave an exam early, no matter how quickly I finished writing.  Maybe I would remember something important about one of my answers as I left the exam hall, and then I would be kicking myself even after my grades came in.  So I sat until the examiner called time for the end of the exam, had all our booklets collected, and released us from the hall.

This experience definitely made me appreciate my classes at UMW.  The stress levels are definitely lower back home, so I'm not terribly concerned about being overworked my senior year of college.  If I can handle this semester, I think I can handle two more at UMW.

I was finished - no more exams, no more classes, no more educational responsibilities until my summer class began at UMW.  I was free to do whatever I wanted until May 31st, the day I'd fly home.  And I had plenty to keep me busy.

When in Rome

Sunday, May 26th, 2013
Two of my friends and I decided that, being so close to Europe, we couldn't pass up the chance to visit Rome while we were here.  We made plans, booked flights, reserved a hostel, and set up our trip to Rome for the week of April 10 to April 17.  Finished with class and not yet worried about exams, we were in a perfect mindset to relax and enjoy our time on vacation.  Other people went to London, Amsterdam, Berlin - we went to the sunny world of Rome, Italy.

My one friend and I caught our flight early (and I mean, our plane left at 6:30 AM, so we had to be at the airport by 4 AM, and it took about 40 minutes to get to the airport, so basically I didn't sleep the night before) the morning of April 10th and met our other friend in Rome (she'd spent a few days in Paris before meeting us).  I boarded the plane in Edinburgh in jeans, hoodie, and rain jacket - a typical rainy day in Scotland - and emerged from my plane in Italy into sunshine and blue skies that I'd rarely felt or seen since I left America.  It was a lovely, wonderful, beautiful day to arrive in Italy, and I don't think it rained a single day we were there.  I wish I'd been able to bring the weather back with me - combine my love of perfect, 70 degree Farhenheit weather with my love of Edinburgh.

While this trip was not actually part of my studying abroad (in that it did not take place in Edinburgh or have anything to do with the university), I still feel that it was an important part of my study abroad experience.  I took a flight to Rome that was only three hours, and that was cheaper than any flight I'd taken between cities in the US.  I didn't have to take off my shoes to go through security at the airport. I understand the purposes of our extreme airport security in the US, but it was still a relief to have a fairly non-stressful experience going through an airport.  Rome is also an extremely different city than any I have been to in America, and not just because of its much longer and intensive history.  The streets around our hostel were small and cobblestone, you can't walk twenty minutes without running into something with historic value, the drivers are insane but very capable, not to mention the language difference.  How could I study so close to Europe and not venture into another country at least once?

Our first day was largely resting from our flights - it had been a long day already, and it was only mid-afternoon.  We all grabbed some rest at our hostel after lunch (read: I napped.  A lot.) and then searched out dinner at a small pizza place in the restaurant area of the city.  We picked our hostel well - it was right next to the huge restaurant area of the city, where both locals and tourists went in bulk.

Of course, the food in Rome is delicious - I will never have pizza or pasta or gelato as fresh and tasty as it was in Rome.  We avoided touristy restaurants as much as possible to get some of the true Italian flavor, and I think we succeeded to some extent.  At some points, though, all we wanted was food, and the closest place was the best place in our minds.

Roman Forum

Colosseum

Colosseum

Mount Vesuvius

Street in Pompeii

Pompeii



A cast of one of the people solidified in ash during the eruption
We hit all the big places - the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's Basilica, the Pantheon - as well as the Spanish Steps, Circus Maximus, and a day trip to Pompeii.  I have never seen so much history in one city.  We could barely walk twenty feet without running into something with some vague historical importance.  I've never had that problem at home, and it was fascinating - how can you live in a city with all this importance and glory, and yet think of it as just some commonplace thing?  I wonder if Italians just think of the Colosseum as a hindrance.  I've certainly become so used to the castle and Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh that they're just part of my daily life now.  I still wonder at them, but would I be so fascinated if I'd grown up in Edinburgh or Rome?  Of course, I live near Manassas and go to school in Fredericksburg, two of the biggest battle sites during the Civil War, and I don't think anything of it.  The reenactments are more irritating than anything else because I have to listen to loud, obnoxious gunshots all day long.  How can we take something with such historical importance, and treat it so nonchalantly?

Piazza Navona

Tiber River

Pantheon

St. Peter's Basilica

In any case, I've never seen anything was wonderful as Rome from the Colosseum, even in my historical hometown, and I greatly enjoyed my trip.  Most of all, I enjoyed the sunshine.  Edinburgh greeted our return with clouds, rain, and wind - typical Scottish morning.  I have to admit, though, that as much as I enjoyed Rome I still found myself missing my flat in Edinburgh - almost as much as I missed my bed at home when I first arrived in Scotland.  It's strange to think that a new place can turn into a home after only three and a half months, but I had become comfortable in Edinburgh's streets.  As I thought about my inevitable return back to the States, I found myself torn - I wanted to return home, but I didn't want to leave Edinburgh.  I guess it's the eternal dilemma for those who study abroad - torn between two homes.

And I’ve Landed!

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

After a two hour flight from Washington D.C. to Atlanta and then a 10 hour flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires, I have finally arrived! After customs and all those other shenanigans I managed to get myself lost..for some reason I was convinced that terminal C is where I had to be to meet the Director of my program. So since I was in terminal A I made the long, and I mean long, walk over to terminal C, lugging my heaving luggage and all.  Once I got to terminal C it was completely empty with no one in sight. So back to terminal A I went..after some help from some Argentinian.  Safe to say I got to terminal A with numb hands from dragging all that luggage (shoulda packed lighter..), in a panic thinking I was never going to find my director, and then only to realize that my director was in A the entire time.. but hey! at least I got a really nice little tour of the airport, right?!

As we were waiting for the others to arrive, the two directors, Raul and Melissa, filled us in on certain Argentinian customs and lingo.  Like they call their black market, the “blue” market, which has a whole lot nicer of a sound than black market. The subway system is called the subterrraneo, in other words “underground,” or “el subte” for short.

After my roommate, Grace, and I were dropped off in a neighborhood of Buenos Aires, called Recoleta, where we will be staying with our host mom, Patricia. She lives on the eighth floor of an apartment building. And along with my roommate and I, there is also another girl named Corinne who is here with Yale. Our host mom took us to eat and we got to look around the city.

El Ateneo Bookstore

El Ateneo Bookstore


Apartment building off Avenida Santa Fe in Recoleta

Apartment building off Avenida Santa Fe in Recoleta

I really love it here and can’t wait for what this month has in store!

Cheers Scotland

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Finals have ended. I had said tearful goodbyes to all my friends just a few hours earlier. Everything was in order as I prepared to depart. Since I refused to sleep through my last precious hours in Edinburgh, I sat in the meadows at 4 am, all packed up and ready to go to the airport, and watched the sun rise over the castle for the last time. It was the most beautiful sun rise in the world. This was my last moment of Scotland, watching the silent sunrise over the sleepy city and shine onto the very castle that greeted me 5 months ago. It took every ounce of strength in me to stand up from that bench and say goodbye to the city that became my home.

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With every hour that I am away from Edinburgh, the whole experience seems more and more distant, like a dream. It was only three days ago that I was across the Atlantic Ocean with some of my best friends enjoying one of the greatest places on earth, and just like that, I’m back in the real world… which would explain the current depression.

To keep my mind off of the idea of the life I’ve left behind, I’ve thankfully been able to swiftly jump into working on my summer research project. And I am not kidding when I say ‘swiftly.’ Upon landing in the United States, and just after a single, exhausting night at home, my already packed bags and I moved down to campus  into my new apartment to start my summer research project. In addition to starting my new job, I was happy to come home to a fantastic reception from my family, all my friends and of course, the superb brood of cicadas that have infested the East Coast. They come every 17 years… thank goodness I came back in time. They. Are. Just. Great.

So everyone knows that the next step of the study abroad experience is reverse-culture shock. I have recruited a couple friends to be on depression duty; meaning that they are on call at all hours of the day in case I happen to see a piece of tartan in my everyday life and start having a ‘Scottish Moment.’ Keeping busy keeps my mind off of the sadness. I’ve been alright so far, but not going to lie, every time I hear ‘Flower of Scotland’ I get a wee bit emotional.

And it doesn’t help that I downloaded this onto my ipod and have listened to it an unhealthy amount of times.

I can’t believe that nine months ago I couldn’t even begin to point out Edinburgh on a map. Studying abroad has been an absolutely life-changing experience that I will never forget. I have grown as a person as well as a student. Learning through immersion and direct, foreign interaction is priceless and more rewarding than any classroom I’ve ever been in. My education has been enhanced through travel, sculpted by my peers, and cemented with memories.

As I stood up from that bench and left the meadows that day, I turned my back to the glorious Edinburgh castle and said goodbye to the greatest semester of my life, but I left knowing I will return.

After all, this is only the beginning.


Bouncing around Barcelona

Friday, May 24th, 2013

            Before I talk about Barcelona, about Sicily, about London, about the beautiful sunshine in Bologna and about the fact that I have just about a week before I leave forever, let me just say—with all the joy in the world—that I AM DONE WITH EXAMS. When I explain how my exam week went, the usage of all-caps will be completely understandable. Now, however, I want to take a break from thinking about medieval history and go back to thinking about the colorful days and late nights of Barcelona.
            So there was a bit of confusion when we first got to Barcelona. We originally thought we had rented an apartment to ourselves for twelve people (you heard me right: TWELVE) but it turned out that the place where we stayed was a sort of mix between a hostel and an apartment, just on the edge of the city center. This meant that we had three rooms in this large apartment, sharing a common room and two bathrooms with the other people in the apartment. Also, the apartment owner thought that there were only eight of us, so we had to be a little sneaky while he was there (not to mention doubling-up to get everyone a bed). The reason we had so many people was because aside from the ECCO Bologna gang (Me, Lily, Sami, Krystal, Skyla, Megan and Raquel), there were also five of Lily’s friends who had been studying abroad in France and Spain. The most exciting part of these new faces joining us? BOYS. How strange is it to say that? And yet, sadly, so true. There are no guys in our program and being with American guys for a few days reminded me of why I often have difficulty making friends with Italian guys here, who typically are just trying to flirt with you.
            We spent the three days we had in Barcelona mainly just walking around and enjoying each other’s company. Lily’s friends were great and we had a lot of fun with them—especially since the Spain kids helped us through any interactions we had with native speakers. Sadly, the eight and a half years of Spanish that I’ve taken has seemingly completely disappeared from my head, although I’m sure when I’m not under a constant influx of Italian, I might remember a little bit more. I also felt better about the fact that I didn’t understand everything people were saying because Catalan is spoken extensively through Barcelona, which is not Spanish. At all.
            Barcelona was a wonder of architecture. With Antoni Gaudí having designed and built multiple buildings throughout the city, in addition to the famous Sagrada Família church, most of the entertainment was simply walking down the streets. There were just so many unique buildings! The city was much more modern and very different from anything I’ve seen thus far—in Europe or otherwise.








Eyeball building?



Sagrada Família

            We spent the nights eating tapas and drinking sangria; the most popular tapas were the patatas bravas: potatoes fried and covered in a sauce made of olive oil, red pepper, paprika, chili, tomato and vinegar. And even though we stayed out late, Megan, Raquel and I forced ourselves to wake up early in the morning to explore more of the city. We went on a tour of Barcelona’s Cathedral, which on the inside was very dark and gothic, but had a spectacular view of the city from the roof. It also had a beautiful courtyard that was a mix of shadows under ancient arches and sunshine dancing on the surface of green pools, disturbed only by the paddling of geese. It was so quiet in there—a nice change from the bustling streets near Las Ramblas. That little courtyard became one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited.


The Cathedral






            We also explored the famous food market, which was amazing. There were o many colors and smells and smoothies and different types of chorizo! We got paella there and it was some of the best I’ve ever had.


Las Ramblas


FRUIT AND SMOOTHIES: please come to Italy




Accurate



            We found the time to go to the Palau Musical, which was a choir house back in the early 1900’s. It too had the unique and mesmerizing architecture that so much of Barcelona seems to embody and its most amazing quality was definitely its use of natural light. There was an entire ceiling piece that was made to look like the sun, that when illuminated appeared to be a chandelier but was in fact just allowing as much natural light into the space as possible.







            At the end of the tour, our guide informed us that the hall was still used today and that, in fact, there would be a flamenco show performed there that very night. The other girls wanted to go along with the group’s plan for the night, but this was my only trip in Spain, so I bought myself a ticket, got dressed up that evening, and went to the flamenco show by myself. Such a good decision. The show was amazing and it was a lot of fun, having to navigate taxi rides in Spanish by myself.




            As a group, we climbed up to Parc Güell one afternoon to have a picnic. This ended up being sort of difficult, as it was less of a park and more of an extreme tourist attraction with very little grass to camp out on. That’s what you get for expecting to picnic in yet another one of Gaudí’s famous creations. Regardless, the park was amazing and definitely worth the hike.








            The weather was perfect throughout the time there. Our last night was beautiful in its simplicity: we searched out a tapas bar that was in a much more local area. We knew it would be authentic food based on the stares we got when walking in and sticking out like…well, like a crowd of ten Americans. But it was worth it. The meal at that last tapas bar was some of the best food I’ve had in my entire time in Europe. I loved sitting out in the warm air, laughing and joking around with new friends and an endless supply of patatas bravas and chorizo and sangria, trading stories about our respective countries and making plans to see each other when we were all back home in America. It’s strange. At the time, making those plans to see each other seemed so far off—as if this wonderland of travel and adventure was our current reality, and that of home was just a dream, a distant idea that we had forgotten. But now, with just a week left in Italy, it is Spain that seems like the dream, as the prospect of returning to America looms ever closer. And that makes me a little sad…if only because I really miss the chorizo. 

© Copyright Danielle DeSimone. 2013.

Spain

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

On Wednesday, I flew with my friend Fernando to his home in San Sebastian, Spain.  We arrived late in the afternoon and after getting settled in, he showed me around the city.  I visited here five years ago for about half a day, so it was a nice experience seeing a city like this again that I thought I probably never would.  Since Fernando has lived here his whole life, he was able to show all the interesting spots and amazing views throughout the city during my visit.  The city is situated near the French border, in the Pyrenees mountains, and on the Atlantic coast, with a really nice beach.  The beach is called “La Concha” for its round, conch shape formed by the small bay it is part of with small mountains on each side of the entrance of the bay.  The city also has an older historical part and a newer larger area as the city grew along with a river running through it that empties into the ocean.  Later that night, Fernando introduced me to some of his friends and we hanged in one of their houses for a while.  Afterwards, at dark, we drove up one of the mountains to get a view of the ocean and the city at night, which was very nice.

On Thursday, we went to the nearby French city of Bearitz, which also had a very nice beach of its own.  The beach also had some cliffs that jutted out into the sea which had paths on them.  These presented even more beautiful views of the coast in both directions.  We took the scenic route back driving along the coast next to the ocean with the mountains all in the background.  Later that day, one of Fernando’s friends showed me around one of their parks, which was full of wild, very colorful peacocks and the old part of the city.  Eventually, we all met up again, and the guys took me around to some bars to try the local pinchos and tapas.  These are small portions of food where you go from bar to bar trying each place’s specialty food, and it was all really good.  On Friday, Fernando and I climbed the other mountain.  At the top is an old fort that was used to protect the city and a large statue of Christ, similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro.  Also at the top, were more amazing views of the city and beach below, with mountains in the background, and the ocean spread out behind me.  Later that day we took a bus to Madrid.  Getting to see the countryside along the way was quite nice as well, winding through the mountains early on and then traveling through the plains and farming areas of the country.  More mountains, still covered in snow were visible in the background almost the whole way, as well as many wind power mills, and the numerous small towns we passed that just look much older and different than your typical small American town.

Once we arrived, we met up with another of Fernando’s friends, studying in Madrid.  We walked around for a while and eventually had some dinner.  Coincidentally, there was a large and very important final of a Spanish soccer tournament that night, called the Copa del Rey, between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.  With Atletico being the underdog and surprising champions,  many fans took to the streets and celebrated long into the night.  We walked around and watched some of the celebrations, which was another cool thing to be a part of.  On Saturday we properly explored the city, seeing all the major landmarks, including the royal palace, cathedral, theater, the Egyptian monument called the Temple of Debod, Plaza Cibeles, Plaza de Espana, Plaza Mayor, and  Retiro Park.  We also had a really good lunch in the city, eventually met up with a couple of Fernando’s friends to have dinner at one of their flats, and enjoyed some of night life by going to a bar and then a really fun club to finish the night called Independence.  On Sunday, we visited Real Madrid’s stadium Bernabeu, and then walked to the Bankia towers, which are built at a unique angle, and four other very tall towers in the business area of Madrid.  Afterwards we returned to the center of the city, had one last good meal, saw more of the city, and returned to San Sebastian later that night.

On Monday, we walked along the ocean around the mountain with the statue of Christ.  The weather for the most part had been unusually cold for this time of year, and with plenty of rain, didn’t allow us a chance to actually go in the water.  On this day though, the sun was out and I got to appreciate how nice this place is during the summer.  For lunch, Fernando’s mom made us Paella, another traditional Spanish meal, which was really good.  Later that day, we met up with a few of the guys again as they took me around to a few more bars to try some pinchos one last time.  On Tuesday, we drove up another small mountain near the border on the way to the airport and had our final lunch in one of the small cities in the valley before saying our goodbyes.

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Homecoming

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

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!

Homecoming

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

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!