After the other Leadership Scholars left, I was left with all the international friends I’ve made this semester. Laurin, Kirsten, Alena, Deborah, Francesco, Myrik…the beginning of the end for our group had already begun. People were moving on every two or three days. The day before Laurin left, who if I’m being honest was kind of the glue holding us together. We all met under a bridge, where we actually hung out a lot, and spent a few hours just talking. It was nice. I can’t understand how much I grew to like these people in such a short span of time, and I can’t believe how integral they were to my study abroad experience. I gained so much confidence just by being around them and I learned so much about so many different cultures. I can’t believe how much I’m going to miss not only them but all the experiences I never would have normally participated in, let alone enjoyed. I really do owe them so much, and I’m never going to forget what it was like to be a part of a group so alike in one way, and so different in all others.
Two days before my flight back to America, I convinced my parents to be cool for once and they dropped their policy of financial manipulation and allowed me to get a tattoo as a souvenir. I called Carole, my “godmother,” for our last outing together. She came with me to one of the highest rated salons de tatouage in Clermont, just to make sure that nothing was lost in translation. The tattoo artist was super nice, and incredibly attractive. He was very accommodating, and he resized it a few times to make sure I got it as small as I wanted. It was quick, painless, and surprisingly silent—he has a special gun that’s quiet. I got a fleur-de-lis behind my right ear. I like it a lot. My goodbye to Carole was just as nice, and again, I can’t believe how lucky I was to have her during this semester. She’s a friend that I know I will keep in contact with. That’s amazing.
Unfortunately, my return to the U.S. was not amazing, it was…hectic. I’d spent the week leading up to my departure packing up all non-essentials and throwing away things that I didn’t need: food, certain toiletries, old papers. Still, the morning that I was to head to the airport in Clermont, I had to carry several trash bags full of things that were still technically useful down to the dumpsters—which made me feel wasteful. The day before my father had asked me to take a cutting of a plant so that he could have “proof that he went to France, through me” (weird, and a little self-serving but I guess I could understand). The biggest problem was getting all my bags down in one fell swoop. Since I’d been in Clermont for 6-months, I had two large suitcases, a duffel bag, a backpack, and a purse—all of which were full to the brim. Somehow, I did it, and then I faced my second biggest challenge: making sure that the accueil knew to do my inspection so that I could get my £247/$320 deposit back. The woman was someone I’d never seen before, meaning she was new…which explains why over a month a later I still have yet to receive my deposit.
I was early to the airport, which meant I had time to have breakfast. That was the easiest part of the entire journey. I got to Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris and was cut in line by a group of large women from Georgia (the state, not the country) while waiting to board. I had my duffel bag, which weighed about 50 lbs., and my backpack, which weighed about 20 lbs. They pretended they didn’t see me and just pushed past me, which was rude but I wasn’t in the mood to cause a scene. The flight to the Atlanta airport was long, and exhausting—only because of my seatmates. I was in the middle seat, and the boy to my left was the son of the woman to my right. They constantly talked across me and the boy, who was at least 18 years old, went to the bathroom a minimum of 6 times in the span of 7 hours. The flight attendant fed us about 4 times, and each meal was worse than the last. When we landed, I knew I was still one flight away from my destination, but I was relieved to be on US soil again.
It wasn’t so much that I “missed” the United States. There are a lot of things that I found I liked better in Europe, but there was an entire layer of anxiety that evaporated when I landed, mostly the language thing. I knew that I wouldn’t be confused or tricked or anything by customs or other airport staff. I went through customs and it wasn’t as stressful as I thought it would be. It was just a relief to be able to go through a tedious, potentially complicated, bureaucratic situation without a language barrier—without that need to anticipate questions and practice responses in my head before getting to the desk. I lugged my wares to the other side of the airport and collapsed into a seat. With regards to tickets, boarding, and luggage, everything had gone relatively smoothly until my final flight from Atlanta to DFW. The flight was delayed on the ground by 1 hour, and then once we were in the air we were interrupted by the wordy flight attendant six or seven times to tell us that we’d be delayed an additional 45-minutes.
It was all worthwhile, though, once I got to baggage claim. My family was there, with a sign that said “(Welcome) Back by Popular Demand.” As bad as this sounds, my family was another thing that I didn’t know I missed so much. While I was gone, I was distracted by how foreign and new everything was. But once I saw my sister and my brother, my mom and my dad, I realized that they’d truly been on the other side of the world from me for over six months, and I realized how much I missed being able to call them without waking them up or vise-versa, how much I missed being able to hug the people who loved me most. I’m not ashamed to say I cried, my mom and sister cried (he would never admit it but so did he) and people all around us were watching our reunion.
I’m glad to be home, but now that I’ve been back a while I’m noticing that I’m missing things from France also. I’m living with my parents for the summer and going from the freedom of being treated like an adult in all ways in Europe to being restrained by US laws and my parents is a bit of a shock for me. I miss my friends, it seems like there was always something to do or someone to hang out with. Now, I’m back in Texas and really none of my friends live here anymore, so I’m alone most of the day—back to watching mindless television or playing videogames. I even miss being able to walk places to get things; for a while, in Clermont, it was a hassle. If I wanted anything I knew I’d have to expend a certain amount of energy (mentally, because of the language, and physically, because of the walking); now I don’t really have an excuse to leave the house or get any exercise.
I think I’d go back to France someday. I know I will, I might even move there some day. But for now, I think that I need to keep the spirit that I found in France and bring it to my life here in the United States. I need to be open to going out and spending time with people, and not be a solitary homebody like I was before; I need to be open to trying new things, eating new foods, going to new places instead of living in my comfort zone. I think that that’s the biggest lesson I learned from living in France—I’ve always been theoretically open-minded, but I’ve never put those theories into the simple things: having a drink with a group of friends, going to a new restaurant, purposely getting lost just to see what I find. I’m glad that I’ve had this experience. It sounds corny, because I always knew that there was more than one way to live life, but I really did have move to the other side the world to find out there are other ways for me to live.