A lifetime in four months

As you’ve probably guessed from the title, this is my four-month-anniversary-and-one-week-left-in-Aix sentimental post.

Although I’m sure I’ll have better and deeper reflections on my experience here once I’m back in my regular life in America, there are lots of things that I want to record while I’m still immersed in my life in France, and there are lots of frequently-asked-questions from friends and family in the States that I feel like I can answer now.

Have you changed? Are you a different person now?

No! But also yes.

Although this is probably a question I’ll have to chew on a bit more once I’m reintegrated in my normal life and surrounded by people who haven’t seen me since I left, at the moment I would say that I’m very much the same person I was when I arrived in France. Lots of people say that studying abroad makes you fearless, bold, and confident, but I would argue that studying abroad has just made me wise(r). While at heart I’m still practical, timid, and shy, I have gained so many new experiences and dealt with so many tricky situations that I now have a much bigger arsenal of ways to tackle my fears—even though they still scare me.

What have you missed the most from the US?

My host mom asked me this the other night, and the first thing I could think of was custard. Specifically, Oscar’s frozen custard. (On May 17, I’m coming for you.) She didn’t know what it was and seemed mildly repulsed when I said it was like ice cream but with eggs in it (et donc plus crémeux), but I feel pretty sure she’d love it if she tried it.

Aside from my biggest nutritional vice, I miss Madison, my roommates, my family, my classes at UW, living independently, pancakes, running trails by the lake, and cooking my own food. But maybe the biggest thing I miss is the feeling of being an insider in my own culture. In Wisconsin, even when I’m talking to another Midwesterner who I don’t know, I know exactly how to interact and what to expect. I can walk into any coffee shop or restaurant and know the etiquette. When people see me and talk to me, they can tell I belong—they don’t switch languages or scoff at my map directions because I sound “foreign”. And on my campus, especially on game days, there’s the total feeling of being in my place, which is so special. But as they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder, and I’m glad to have spent so much time away from my home that I’ve gained the perspective to understand how comfortable, insulated and protected I am when I’m there.

What will you miss the most from France?

I can see my mom’s eyes rolling from here, but I’ll miss the wine. (Rosé, specifically.) It’s just so good and so cheap—especially the wine that comes from my region! While I’m in the category of food and beverage, I’ll add: crepes for nearly every occasion, fromage blanc (my favorite dessert here—kind of like a tangy yogurt), and Nespresso machines (I did finally come around to French coffee).

I’ll also miss speaking French every day. Even though there were times when I never wanted to speak a foreign language again, I’ve now reached the point where my thoughts flow in a constant mélange of French and English. Sometimes, I can’t think of the thought I want in English, so I’ll say it in French. The great part is that all my friends here do the same, and we often talk in seamless Franglais. I know when I get back to Madison I’ll have to knock off some of the franglais with my friends, but I hope to keep speaking French as much as I can in my French classes and at the French House in Madison—I really don’t want to lose the level of “fluency” (if you can call it that) that I’ve gained here.

On a related note, I’ll miss my friends here! I truly couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend this crazy four months with. Even though roughly half of them will be heading back to Madison with me and I know we’ll stay tight (who else will picnic with me and eat blocks of cheese as a daily thing?), it will still be such a sad adjustment to not see these people every day. #aixforever

Finally, I’ll miss the ever-present sunshine (except during the month of April, when it rained at least half the time. My host mom taught me a Provencal saying about the weather here in April that roughly translates to “April is for getting out the needle and thread, and May is for rediscovering the pleasures of life”). I’ll miss easy and cheap travel to so many countries at my fingertips. I’ll miss filing bureaucratic paperwork for literally everything (haha just kidding). And I’ll miss starting to belong in a new and beautiful place.

Aix, ma ville, tu as mon coeur!

What have you learned during your time in France?

I’ve learned how to fly alone, that the fork goes on the left-hand side of the plate, a ton of French vocabulary and text lingo, how a hostel works, how to use the French post office, all the different kinds of espresso beverages, how to pack for 10 days in one bag, what it’s like to live in a family other than my own, what’s in foie gras, how wine is produced, how to navigate countless public transit systems, and plenty more.

But I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to survive and actually enjoy being perpetually uncomfortable. Instead of just trying to squeeze through the moments of uncertainty, awkwardness, adrenaline, fear, homesickness, loneliness, and self-doubt, I’ve learned that those moments are probably going to make up at least half of your lifetime, and if you rush through them, you’ll miss out on a lot of life—and beautiful and surprising experiences along the way. Even though a fair amount of my time in France was spent making mistakes and feeling like an outsider, I’ve come to realize that it isn’t bad to be a little out of place—it forces you to stretch a little bit. And you just might fall in love with that new place while you’re there.

What’s next? / When are you coming back to France?

Great question. At the moment, I have tunnel vision for this summer and next semester ahead of me, which will consist of staying put in Madison at an internship and then classes. I’m so ready to be back in my favorite place for my senior year, living with all my best friends and taking classes I’m excited about. But after that, I have no idea! I’m hoping to work in my field (advertising) for a little while in the US, but I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t a few tendrils of opportunity to move back to France being planted in my mind…so stay tuned! You now have as much of an idea of what my future will hold as I do!

My daily walk into centre-ville via the rue d’Italie
Jacob’s boulangerie, one of my favorite places in the whole world (actually there are 3 of them in Aix, so I guess it’s 3 of my favorite places in the world)
The Cours Mirabeau on a market day
Fresh bread being sold at the market. In years to come, I can imagine myself catching an accidental whiff of fresh bread on the street and being transported back to France in my memory
Fresh flowers at the flower market
The vegetable market and the Petit Bistrot
A painter and his masterpiece, the Place des Quatre Dauphins
Wouldn’t be Aix without mopeds and cathedrals everywhere
Narrow cobblestone streets, sunshine, and fragrant blooming trees are how I’ll always remember Aix
The amazing crew I spent these past 4 months with <3