I know some people may not agree with me, but I honestly believe that dreams do come true. Why? Because these past few months living/studying abroad have been some of the most rewarding times/experiences/obstacles/etc. that I have ever had. And with three weeks left to go, I’m having mixed feelings about leaving. I’m getting a little homesick and want to go back, but I don’t want to leave this incredible experience that I’ve actually had the opportunity to take.
First and foremost, the best thing about this semester has been learning more about myself; things that I certainly didn’t know before I left. If you had asked me if I thought that I would be able to live in France for four months and get along just fine with barely any problems, I probably would have laughed and said, “You’re kidding, right? That’ll never happen!” Well, I can’t believe that I was wrong, but boy am I glad that I was. There were also a lot of people who doubted me and my abilities, saying that I would most likely not be able to accomplish all that I wanted and I am extremely delighted to say that I have proved those people WRONG!
During the past three and a half months, I have honestly seen Europe. I haven’t just gone to three or four other European cities, but by the time the semester is over, I will have gone to over 15 new countries and around 35 European cities! I have taken trips to Spain, Italy, Monaco, Austria, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. My last two trips are to visit Hungary and Israel, both of which I am very excited for. In each of the countries, I have made new friends and learned so much about the culture by visiting historical sights, trying new foods, and just interacting with the locals. It has been a little easier for me to do this because I’ve been doing almost all of this travelling completely alone. Let me tell you, travelling alone is also one of the most rewarding things you could ever do because it really puts things into perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I love travelling with my friends when I can, but there’s just something different about it when you’re all by your lonesome. I’ve also been told that this style of travelling is not for everyone. For example, a friend of mine basically went to Barcelona by herself one weekend and came back to ask me how I do it. And honestly, I think it’s the adventure and the unknown that I like most about it. You never know who you’re going to meet or what you’re going to see or do and that really excites me!
Besides my dream of travelling throughout Europe becoming a reality, I have also met some of the most spectacular friends I could ever have! These people are truly amazing, I promise you! I was told before coming abroad that the people on my program would become my friends for life, but I didn’t take it very seriously. I was prepared to not befriend any Americans, but that plan soon went out the window as soon as I met everyone. It is just very weird how much we actually have in common with one another and how comfortable we feel being together. We can laugh at each other, tell each other secrets that we’ve never told anyone else, and just be ourselves because, let’s face it, we’re all over here lost in a new world more or less. We have had to develop our friendships a lot faster and more in depth than our “normal” lives because 1. we’ve seen each other every single day and 2. there just isn’t enough time to do it the “normal” way. If we were to do it the “normal” way, no one here would have friends, or at least not as many close friends as most of us have. We’re even making plans to see one another during out Spring Breaks and hoping to come back to Aix together in a few years to relive the lives we’re living now!
Living with a host family has also been such an incredible journey and I am so glad to have been blessed with the host mom that I’m staying with, Andrée. She is this spunky 82 year-old woman who still has so much life, love and energy to her that it’s contagious. By far, I think she has taught me the most about French culture and maybe the French language as well. You see, she doesn’t speak any English whatsoever, so all of our communication is in French. We even have a dictionary next to the kitchen table for those times when I need to either look up a word that she said to me or look up a word that I need to describe something to her. But I think the quality that I love most about her is her caring and loving nature toward just about everyone! For example, one night at dinner she was talking about how much she loved going to Dublin to drink with the locals because they were so gay. Me, being myself, was a little taken aback and questioned her on it. “But what do you mean, Andrée?” Completely understanding where I took the conversation, she reassured me that she wasn’t talking about their sexual orientation, but how happy they always are. She even felt the need to tell me that she has no problem whatsoever with people who are, in fact, gay (in this case, those who are homosexual). She told me that she knows a gay couple who are close friends of hers and that she has also hosted gay students in her home before. This is when I absolutely knew I could trust her and I told her right then and there that I, too, am gay. It didn’t bother her one bit. And since we were talking about having children, she even told me that I could adopt if I really wanted to! But honestly, how cool is that? This woman, of an older generation, having such an open mind to the world around her is just remarkable to me because I just don’t often hear about it, especially in a predominantly Catholic. Also, another thing that I love about her is that she corrects my French when I’m either having difficulties wording something or if I end up saying something completely incorrect. It has definitely helped me out! My worst fear about living with a host family was that 1. they would never correct my French, so therefore I would never learn/improve and that 2. they wouldn’t accept me as who I truly am. Fortunately for me, the dream has continued and it has worked in my favor. I couldn’t ask for anything more with Andrée. For me, she is the absolute best! We’re also the same Zodiac sign (Gemini) which is in part why we get along so well, she believes.
For those of you who know me extremely well, you know that my all-time favorite artist will forever be Céline Dion. Well, I can PROUDLY say that next Thursday (that’s one week from tomorrow), I will be skipping a couple of classes (bad, I know) to fly up to PARIS to see Céline in concert!!! WHAT!?!? That’s right, I’m going to be seeing Céline Dion in Paris, France next week! That, my friends, is quite unimaginable to me. Even know, I’m shaking my head in disbelief. I honestly cannot believe that I’m going to be seeing (and singing along with) my favorite singer of all time in my favorite city in the world (that I’ve come across thus far)!! Needless to say, I am super pumped for next week and I can’t wait for this one dream to come true, although it did come at quite a price. Did I mention that I’ll be sitting in the Gold Section, Row 18?!? I will say it now so that I don’t need to say it repeatedly later on; tears will be shed once I see her on stage.
There are some people in the world that say that you don’t need to live in a foreign country in order to learn their language. I used to be one of those people to a certain extent. You can certainly learn French without living in France, but actually living the language is something that I can’t even begin to fathom the fact that I’ve been here living it. Before arriving, I was able to understand French and I thought I could speak it pretty well, but I certainly was not expecting some of the obstacles and accomplishes that I’ve had come along. I can walk in the streets of Aix-en-Provence (my home) and hear French being spoken all around me and with a little bit of eavesdropping, I know exactly what people are saying/talking about. I can go into a store speaking English with a few of my friends and immediately switch to French to talk to the merchants and then back to English without even thinking about it now and that is exactly what I wanted. Do I still have difficulties? Yes, of course. I’m never going to be perfect, but I’ve come a long way and I’m so happy, thankful and grateful for it. There are also some points in the daily life of living here that I’ve caught myself not knowing which language was being spoken to me because it is just becoming so natural. When I came almost 5 years to France for the first time with my mom, we had a tour guide on our bus who quickly switched from speaking French to English and vice versa. I looked over at my mom and said that one day I would like to be able to do just that. Well, I think I can say that I’ve finally almost gotten there!! My mom would be so proud, I bet!
Deciding to write this post could not have come at a better time either since it’s Thanksgiving tomorrow and we’re supposed to reflect on all that we’re thankful/grateful for. Well, if I did that right here right now in this post, it would go on for quite awhile. My life has forever been changed for the better and I cannot even begin to describe the emotion that is overcoming me right now. It literally all feels like a dream. A dream come true, that’s exactly what it is.
Like I said, this feeling is utterly indescribable. A feeling that can truly only be felt. What I’m feeling and thinking is EXACTLY what I want to give to others. I’ve worked in the International Education Center at my university since my freshman year and I fell in love with International Education since then. That passion has only been ignited more than ever after this experience. This is precisely the reason why I want to be a Study Abroad Director!! I want to give my future students this INCREDIBLE life-changing experience that they will never forget! I promise you, it is the most wonderful and priceless sort of feeling ever!!
Dreams really do come true and I cannot wait to make others’ dreams come true as well!!! 😀