"You know how in Harry Potter they have pensives?"
"No.  I don't like Harry Potter."
Jony and I are sitting on the side of a fountain facing the Hôtel de Ville, surrounded by the lights and Christmas tree that decorate this place.   We are sharing an order of marrons grillés, something which we had been planning to do since we first saw the stands pop up around Aix over a month ago.  It is his last night and time has run out to put it off any longer.
This is a moment of total peace and happiness, which is how I've been feeling since I got to France.  Sitting in decked-for-the-holidays Aix with a great friend and yummy food, I couldn't be more at home.
"Yes you do!" I protest.  He smiles.  "I know you too well for you to lie about something like that."  Harry Potter fandom is high on my list of required qualities in a friend.
"Anyway," I continue my original thought. "I wish we had those. I wish we could capture a moment and relive it any time we want.  Like this.  Next semester when I'm overwhelmed and missing France, I want to come back to right now."
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This blog has been my pensive.  I've tried to capture the people, places and moments that have made this experience so amazing.  This last blog is a record of my final moments in Aix, little things that I want to remember that show how at home and among family I was abroad.  I hope that you have enjoyed your glimpse into my pensive over the last few months.
   Bisous,
     Sally
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It is my last night and I'm the closest I've ever been to lost in Aix.  Up until this point, the city has been mine to wander and lose myself in, yet always know my place.  I've just said my final goodbye to Cassandra, Kacy and Sara (at least until we see each other in the States) and I'm walking home alone.  When we parted ways I realized that I was on a street that I knew, but which I had only ever navigated in the company of my friends.  Now I am on my own.  Three months ago I would have panicked, but now I have confidence that I'll soon see something I recognize.  In a few minutes I see "Chat Rêveur," which means that I'm at Hôtel de Ville.  I have a 10-minute walk home to get my last glimpses of the city.
I commit to memory the smell outside Jacob's Boulangerie; the liveliness of the area outside of Patacrêpe, our favorite restaurant and where we had our last family dinner a few nights ago; and the excitement I feel as I pass the Rotonde and Tarte Tropezienne, who makes the best bread, and walk down the stairs to get to my apartment, a happy home that my host mom, housemate and I have created.  I am close to tears but don't cry.  After 3 1/2 months here, I want to look like the local I feel like rather than the tourist I probably am on my last walk through the city.
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LaSia and I sit on my floor, rolling clothes, switching them from one bag to another, squishing, squeezing and sitting on bags to get them to zip.  I have space bags which you need to sit on to get all the air out so we are lying on my floor contorting ourselves into strange positions trying to let the rest of the air escape.  We borrowed our host mom's scale to weigh our bags, but the suitcases are so big that they cover the glass screen that displays the weight.  We have developed a system where one of us puts the bag on the scale and the other one crouches down next to the scale so that when the other takes the bag off, they can read the weight quickly before it disappears.  The scale is not in my favor.  LaSia has to get up early too, but she has spent at least an hour helping me try to get my bags in order.
When we've admitted defeat, she goes back to her room trying to figure out what she can leave here to make her bag weigh 3 kilos less so she doesn't have to pay the overweight fee.
It's 2 a.m. and I finally have no way to put off sleeping.  I go in to her room with the intention of saying goodbye since I'll be gone before she wakes up.
"This is it," I say sadly.

"No it is not.  We live too close for this to be it."  Luckily I live close to most of the friends I've made here and we're already planning a reunion next year.  A hug is too final so we wave goodbye for now, say goodnight and see you soon, and enter onto our separate journeys home.
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As my plane from Marseille is about to take off, I start laughing thinking back on all that has happened in the last 3 1/2 months.  Study abroad has been too incredible to leave sad, but I shed a few emotional tears as I see my beloved Provence disappear below me.  A few minutes later, I look out again and see a perfectly white sky.  The clouds literally form a blank slate.  When I go home, I have to figure out how to incorporate the person I was in France and the person I was at home.  I have to figure out how study abroad will figure into my future life.
I think of my friends, my study abroad family with whom I formed super glue-tight bonds faster than I've ever bonded with a group of people before.
I think about all the times I was sure I would miss this plane, train or bus, and would be stranded wherever I was.  I never missed a single flight, train or bus ride.
I was left in awe that I could fall so completely in love with a place and people so quickly.  I was left in awe of the Grand Place in Brussels.  I was left in awe of my own ability to be self-sufficient and build a whole life away from everyone I ever knew.
I think about last night, walking home alone, beginning a new journey by myself.  I know that study abroad has left me with the confidence I need to complete tasks that would have previously left me feeling hopeless.  If I can navigate Europe, I can surely write a 20-page research paper (although I'll never want to).  For now all I'll need the ability to do is undertake the enormous task of unpacking.  I take a last glance out the window, say a silent goodbye and thank you to France, and settle in for a long day of traveling.
 
"On va manger les filles!" is one of my favorite things to hear every day.  It signals not only a break from homework (although, let's face it, I was probably lost in the abyss of internet distraction anyway) but an amazing French meal cooked by my amazing host mom.
Most host parents are great, but you hear stories.  The same meal every night.  Awkward marital problems.  My housemate LaSia and I are lucky enough to live with a host mom who is warm, welcoming and gives us the true French experience.
PictureMe, Madame Regent and LaSia
Madame Regent has made us feel like a part of her family.  Her son, his wife and their children live nearby, so we often come home on Friday or Saturday night and they're there enjoying a family meal, which we are always welcome to join.  Her granddaughter lets herself into my room if I'm home and we play Yahtzee (with the rules she made up) or listen and sing along to the American music she knows.

Madame is welcoming, making sure we tried macarons and Calissons d'Aix.  Each night we have a real French meal.  It is never one big dish, but consists of several small dishes, then salad, bread and cheese.  Simple and delicious seems to be her cooking motto.

If LaSia and I want to watch Master Chef so we can root for Marie-Hélène, we watch it until we’re all asleep on the couch.

Her generosity extends to our friends, who she greets with warmth if we ever bring them over because we have to stop at home on the way to somewhere else.  Everyone is greeted with the French double-cheek kiss.  She even let us have a friend over for dinner and taught us all how to make crêpes.
I come home every night hoping that someone will already be home and glance out my door to greet whoever is coming home when I hear their keys in the door.  More than being alone in a foreign country, making new friends or taking classes in French, I was worried about living in a home stay.  With Madame Regent and LaSia, I have found out how much fun living with people can be.
 
This Thursday was the first Thanksgiving that I spent away from home.  Although I didn’t spend the holiday with my family, I still spent it with family.
This is the second time that I’ve travelled to a foreign country without my family.  The first time was in May 2012 when I went to London with 6 other students and 1 professor.  We lived, ate, learned and explored together.  We were there for 10 days and are now the closest of friends.
It is my opinion that you become closer to people you travel with faster than anyone else.  You have a short period of time in which to go through all the phases of friendship.  You meet, get to know, live with, become inseparable from and then have to leave these people all in the span of however long your trip lasts.
In the case of study abroad, you have 3 1/2 months to do all this.  When I went to college I thought I could never find friends as good as those that I had in high school.  When I came to study abroad I thought I could never get as close to anyone in 3 1/2 months as I had to my college friends.  Now, I’m lucky to have 3 amazing groups of friends.
IAU hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for us on Thursday.  Obviously nobody expected it to be as good as the meals we would have gotten at home, but we were happy to be together for the holiday.  We are completely incapable of getting everyone together at once (Gina was missing from this gathering) but most of us were there wine-ing, dining, laughing and, since we helped serve the pumpkin pie, filling up on all the slices of pie we stole.  After the meal nobody wanted to go home, so we went to a bar until Thanksgiving was over and we felt like returning home.
After the meal, we stood in a circle in a place right outside where the dinner was held and gave thanks, mostly for each other and this experience.
I’m thankful for my semester in France, the best thing that could have happened to me at this point in my life.  I’m thankful for the family that I’ve created here, who are the reason that going back will be so hard.  I’m thankful for my family, friends and all the opportunities that I have waiting for me at home that will make going back a little easier.  I’m thankful that studying abroad has been all that I was dreaming it would be since I was 12.