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From the first day I stepped on French soil, I was bombarded with the stages of emotions that flood students who are studying abroad. Prior to my arrival in France, I read blogs from students studying abroad in order to be better prepared for the array of emotions and culture shock I might possibly experience. I assumed I’d experience a variety of emotions and to some extent culture shock; however, I never thought I’d actually experience nearly all of them, but I did. When I first arrived in France, I was both excited and sad. I was excited to be able to experience a new life and to have the opportunity to learn new things about French culture as well as about myself; however, I was also sad that I had no one to share that experience with, as I ventured to France completely on my own. I decided to partake in this adventure on my own because I knew it would be good for me. I needed a clean slate, mentally, and I wanted to have a better grasp on French language and culture. As I reflect on the past 4 months, I am able to confidently say that I made the best decision Ever! The first two weeks were filled with excitement and busy days – participating in new student orientation, starting classes in France, making new acquaintances (who later became good friends), doing homework, adjusting to life with a housemate and host mom, figuring out (and often getting lost) the directions in Aix and the buildings/rooms of all of my classes, which were switched around at least 3 times for two of them, traveling with the institute to Nice and Monte Carlo, and traveling with Georges to Saint Tropez. There wasn’t a whole lot of room for any other emotion or reflection because life at this point was on-going. After about two weeks, I was able to relax a little and absorb life in Aix. This is when I began to miss my boyfriend (at the time), my family, and my friends back in the states. At this point, I thought that maybe I made a mistake and should’ve taken the summer term instead because it is shorter; however, I’m glad I chose to stay an entire semester.

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In October, I realized some things about myself and my relationship that I never would have discovered if I had never participated in this study abroad experience. Also in October, I met some French people closer to my age. Prior to that, I only knew older French people, which made it difficult to “fit in” with the culture. There’s one experience, in particular, that strikes me as the most important experience in France for several reasons. First, it enabled me to find a niche into French culture. Second, it made me realize that there was no need to waste my time on certain stressful situations that I experienced in the states. For a long time, and for one reason or other, I fooled myself into thinking I needed them or that they were “normal.” Meeting French people and getting a closer look into the culture changed my entire way of thinking, especially about relationships. I’m extremely thankful that I no longer feel the need to continue my life in that stressful way. Third, I met a nice, outgoing, fun, understanding, and… let’s be honest… attractive man who months later became my boyfriend (and from this point on he will be referred to as mon chaton). This experience happened one Friday night in October. It started out with my housemate and me heading with our host mom to her friend’s apartment. There, at dinner, we met her friend’s grandson, who truly welcomed us into the culture. After dinner, we invited him out with us. My study abroad friends and I assumed we would head to a bar called The Wohoo (one of our usual bar spots) after pre-gaming with other IAU students at the usual spot in Aix; however, something much more interesting and fun happened instead. I never thought that this French man would accept our invitation, but thankfully, he did. Instead of heading to The Wohoo, we followed him to The Sunset Café. It was there that we met some of his friends. Everyone, even those of us who hardly knew any French, were able to hold conversations with them. It was the best experience Ever! Even if we made mistakes and had to use hand movements, we still held conversations! Success! Who knew that with a bottle of wine and a couple of beers, we’d all be pro’s at French. It was that confidence and acceptance that lead me to a happier emotional state, which I kept throughout the rest of my time in France. As a result of this particular experience, I feel that it is necessary for study abroad students to meet and hang out with French people around their age as it enables students to feel more like they are being accepted into the new culture, even with the presence of cultural differences. Also, it gives students confidence. In this respect, confidence and acceptance go hand-in-hand. The fact that French people close to your age are interested in what you have to say about everything from politics to music adds to the feeling of “acceptance.” At the same time, when you find that you can communicate in one way or other and that (in some cases) their English is at the same level as your French, you start to gain confidence. And to be quite frank, we need to feel accepted in the culture and to have that confidence in our ability to communicate in order to appreciate and enjoy the study abroad experience.

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In November, on Thanksgiving, I started to feel that sadness creep in again. It lasted only for a day, but it came hard. That was the last day I felt any emotion other than irritation for the relationship I had in the states. Aside from that, November was a great month! I finished a trip to Italy and traveled to Spain among other cool things.

When December approached, I felt irritated as a result of the terrible final exam schedule. I don’t know who was in charge of its creation; however, it left very little – no time to say goodbye to friends and to Aix. If I had been in charge, I would’ve had all of the final exams scheduled the week of the 10th – 14th of December. I would’ve scheduled the host family party on Monday, a trip to a chocolate factory on Monday, and the Goodbye party/talent show on Tuesday. Saturday and Sunday would’ve been left for packing and hanging out with friends. I was not in charge of the final exam schedule, however, so I had to deal with it as did everyone else. Though, it was difficult to study for any of my exams because I had to pack and say goodbye to my friends, especially mon chaton. Aside from the final exam schedule, December was great! I went to Lyon with friends, to experience La fête des Lumières. We ended up not booking any lodging because it was overpriced. We thought that we could stay up all night by bar hopping and walking the streets of Lyon. Unfortunately, the bars closed early, so we were forced to walk in the freezing cold and spitting rain most of the night. This wasn’t a terrible experience, but it was an experience that I never wish on anyone. We were lucky that the train station was open because at one point we could no longer keep our eyes opened but there were too many creepy drunkards taking over the bus benches, so we parked ourselves on some chairs at the train station and took a nap. The next day was awesome, even though we were all dead tired. We hiked up the hill (c’mon I’m from the Midwest, so I’d call it a mountain) to Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which offers a breathtaking view of Lyon. When we finally arrived at the TGV in Aix, I had never been happier to see mon chaton’s face… and his car! Needless to say, I slept until about 11:00am the following day.

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The last two weeks in France were bittersweet. There were finals to study for, packing to be completed, and “goodbye,” or “à bientôt” to say to friends. The hardest of these were the “Goodbye’s”. My friends and I decided that we weren’t saying “goodbye,” we were just saying, “see you soon”. I hope I will see all of them sometime in the near future! It was particularly difficult to say goodbye to mon chaton because at that point, I wasn’t sure if I would ever see him again. In fact, when I got on the plane that was homeward bound, I cried silently. When I landed in Chicago, trudged through customs, and finally found my parents and my former boyfriend, I knew immediately what needed to be done...and it wasn’t going to be easy. I ended my relationship without knowing that shortly after that, I would be in another relationship with mon chaton. I always thought that I’d be with my former boyfriend for the rest of my life; however, my experiences in France opened my eyes to the unnecessary problems and issues we had that neither of us needed to live with forever. I don’t know if fate or destiny has a plan for us in the future, but I do know that I feel better after having ended things. I feel terrible that it took this long for me to realize something was off in our relationship, but I’m glad that we can try to remain friends. Also, he deserves someone who can give her all, since I unintentionally left my heart in France. After ending a 7-year relationship, I intended to stay single, treasuring the good times we had, and only missing the man I met in France. In fact, I missed him from the moment I watched him leave my host mom’s apartment on the last Sunday that I spent in Aix. I never thought I would end up with a French man, but he makes me extremely happy in ways I never experienced before, and not to mention …he managed to capture my heart when I was off guard. I’m happily trying this long distance thing so that I don’t regret not knowing what we could have had. Perhaps in the future I’ll start a blog on how to maintain a long distant relationship because I can already foresee that this will not be easy.

Since I’ve been back in the USA, life hasn’t been easy. Everything I do reminds me of something I did or experienced in France. I’m definitely irritating my family and some of my friends because I continue bringing up little things that happened while I was in France or cultural differences or similarities. They don’t understand that I need to hold on to these memories to keep my sanity. It seems that they assume I’d rather be in France than in the states with them, which to some extent is true. I’d rather be living in France; however, I love my family and friends, so living in France would be That much Cooler with all of them there, too. It’s tough trying to remain strong when everyone says such negative things about how they think you feel about them every time you bring up a memory or a fact about France. I just want to scream, “I love you all, but I also love France so can you just let me remember the awesomeness and share it with you?” My true intentions are to try and share my memories with them, not make them think I prefer those memories over the memories I have with them. In the end, we all have good intentions. At some point, I hope things will get easier. As of right now, it’s difficult, but every time I skype mon chaton, all of these troubles disappear, which amazes me. Also, talking with my study abroad friends helps ease the transition from French mode to USA mode. In any case, I know I will end up back in France soon! :)

 


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