Before leaving and after getting there, the program taught us something that kind of looks like a roller coaster.
It was a chart of emotions and feelings students generally experience when going abroad. It started with an extreme high from the excitement of a new place, followed by an extreme low a couple weeks later as students began to feel homesick and uncomfortable in a new environment. Finally, it evened out as students became adjusted and accustomed to their new life.
Throughout the semester, I began to feel like I was never going to reach that third stage. It felt like the language was too difficult, the culture was too different, the situation was too stressful to ever feel okay.
And while in France, I don’t think I ever realized I felt that way. The thing with adjusting is that you never really know it’s happened. One day you wake up and come to the realization that it didn’t seem weird anymore.
That brings us to my final day in France, as my host family drove me to the train station to leave Aix-en-Provence for the last time. Shaking the hand of my host mom’s boyfriend and giving my host mom the French bises, it was hard not to be emotional. They had done so much, they served as the bridge between me and the culture. Back now, I regret not putting myself in the culture more, but having a host family made it so easy.
The moment I learned that France was my new home didn’t fully materialize in my head until getting back to school. When I got home, in Madison, I found myself feeling homesick, for France. The pace was too fast here, the people were too loud.
Reverse culture shock hit in more ways than one. Earlier this week was Memorial Day. Unfortunately, I worked that morning, which felt wrong after living in a country where it is practically unheard of to work on holidays. While at work, the company bought us lunch as a thank you for working. But once lunch got there, everybody ate in the office and at their desks, including some who kept working. I was so used to a culture that gave citizens at least two hours for lunch, and here I was surrounded by people who were working through lunch. It felt like a crime.
Lastly, following my shift, I went to a store to buy some groceries. While in the grocery store, I ran across people who were just walking around in just their swimsuits. In France, in cities around the Mediterranean, there were signs strictly prohibiting people from walking around in swimsuits if they weren’t on the beach. Here, people were shopping in them.
All in all, I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I miss France. As painful as it was, about halfway through April, it was my home. No longer a vacation, but apart of my identity. I feel more mature, more confident and more well-rounded. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I promised myself I wouldn’t cry when I got back to Madison. But it’s hard not to shed a tear in a new, strange environment.