So thinking about what to write before my departure to France, the only thing that keeps coming to mind is, “I’m not ready!”
The phrase is kind of ridiculous; I’ve been preparing for this trip all 4 months of fall semester. I smiled for my first passport photo, and I made a trip to the French Consulate in Chicago for my long-term student visa. I filled out all the paperwork for my new university, and I registered for international health insurance. I have updated friends and family on my plans, and I have met up with people to say my, see you later’s. My Christmas gifts consisted of a travel pillow, electricity convertors, and luggage tags. And yet, with all the conversations on travel tips and French classes I have had, I still feel dauntingly unprepared.
How does one prepare to spend half a year in another country exactly? How many things can you buy and how much studying can you do before you hit the “ready” stage? Maybe that’s just it—can one ever be ready for a supposedly life-changing experience? I feel like I can read all the Rick Steve travel books that I want and still not be prepared for the changes that the next 6 months will bring. Sure I can learn about France’s history, memorize the proper way to greet someone, or register for classes before I get there, but there is some element of studying abroad that I cannot plan and organize. How will I act if I get lost? Will my behavior scream, “I’m a foreigner!”? What will it feel like when French sounds completely natural to me? How will I grow and change when I come back? I do not know what to expect for this coming semester, and it seems to be this unknown that makes me feel so unprepared. This uncertainty makes me feel like I’m traveling much farther than across the Atlantic.
But I’m hoping and praying that this element of “unpreparedness” is what will make the next semester in Europe great. Not knowing what will happen—the challenges, the people, and my responses—makes them all the more memorable once they happen. The good, the bad, and the who knows what else will make a deeper impact on my time in Aix. That conclusion seems pretty obvious, but I keep forgetting it as I’m stuffing my suitcase.
Going to France has always been a “Someday” goal for me. Now that “Someday” is actually this Friday, isn’t it interesting how I shy away from that goal and want to cling to things I know? I want the security in certainty but also the freedom in something new. I’m about to take a step and a flight towards the latter. So ready or not, France, here I come.