The first things I did: I ate at McDonalds during my layover in Detroit and got a coffee at Starbucks. So American. I spoke English and smiled at whomever I pleased, knowing that they wouldn’t hit on me or ask for my phone number, haha. I have to say that my self esteem will probably decrease a lot when I don’t have a million guys whistling at me on the street. I never thought I’d miss that…I spoke in English some more and bought a crappy celebrity gossip magazine in English and read it cover to cover.
The first things I realized: I’m in the States. I’m the same as everyone again. I’m not a foreigner anymore. Indiana is kind of ugly…just farms and highways and big office buildings. My family is amazing and they have been waiting on pins and needles for my return since the day I left for France. It was so good to see them, it really was.
The first things I missed: I called my host mom and talked to her. She told me the house seemed empty without me and that she missed me a lot. I really miss her. I really miss joking around with her, in French, and then giving myself an invisible pat on the back for being able to be funny in another language. I don’t think you realize how nervous I was about that.
I spent Christmas with the family and opened a few presents. Got some coal in my stocking…what a welcoming present.
Anyway, I guess this is the last installment that you will get to read from me. I’m really glad I got to write this blog over the course of the semester. It’s cool for me to go back and remember the things that I’ve done and the progress that I’ve made. I can’t say enough what a positive experience it was for me to learn abroad in France. It was really the chance and experience of a lifetime.
My friends and I were discussing before we all left Montpellier, and we were laughing at how strange it is that you learn so much about yourself while you’re actually trying to learn about the language and culture around you. I think that I’ve changed a lot as a person due to living in a different culture. Being taken out of your comfort zone and being forced to realize your own strengths and weaknesses is quite the eye-opening experience. I know I’m a much better and more complete person for accomplishing all that I have. I know I will return to France one day, hopefully in the near future, and maybe one of you will be living there too. If so, my blog actually meant something.
I finally decided that I had to pack my bags and get ready to go, after a long talk with my host mom. She kept saying, “I don’t think you’ll be able to fit all of that in your suitcases, you might want to start that so we can send a package if we have to.” Of course she was right and I had to send yet another package home because I couldn’t carry it myself in my two giant suitcases. That’s a total of three packages that I had to send. You’d be surprised at how much crap you accumulate over the course of four months…especially when you arrive back on Christmas Eve. Buying presents is so hard!
During the packing process, my room was a wreck and my host mom kept calling it Beirut.
I have to admit that I was so sad while packing up my stuff, and I cried big time when I had to give my apartment keys back. My host mom gave me a keychain that is just like hers to remember her by which was so nice. I gave her my favorite book, Everything is Illuminated, only translated into French of course. I wrote in the inside of the cover a little letter. Basically it said thank you in a thousand different ways and that this semester has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and it has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life too. It said thanks to her for being my friend throughout, for taking care of me and helping me, for being my host mom, etc.
Leaving Montpellier is something I’ve known I would have to do from day one. I even knew the date and time that I would go. Yet leaving was so difficult. I really have started a whole new life in Montpellier with new friends, a new school, and a new language of course. It’s been so taxing on me at times, emotionally and mentally. And now, I have this perfect thing that I’ve achieved. Something so wonderful and complete; something I have to give up. How terrible is that? I guess it’s not terrible at all.
I got to thinking that there would be a lot of things like that throughout my life especially since I graduate college soon. Actually I’m really lucky that I’ve had and will have experiences like that in my life. I’ll have things that I’ll be able to look back and say, “yeah, I really did that, and I loved every minute of it.” As for the friends and family I’ve made here in Montpellier, I hate to leave them. I have made ways to keep in contact with each of them, even some of my professors. Something about the process of Study Abroad just links you to other people so quickly and so firmly that you feel like you were born to know them. Like you were destined to be friends. So I definitely can’t let people like that slip away.
The morning of my departure, my friends came to the train station to see me off, and my host Mother, Akila, was there with me too. After crying about a million times, I finally said my goodbyes, snapped one last picture, and made my way on to the train.
I forgot how much it sucked to carry those two giant suitcases. Thanks to Pat for helping me load my stuff onto the train. As I sat in my seat on the train, I looked out the window to see Carly and Steph signing to me and waving, and as the train pulled away, they ran after it for a good minute and a half waving and yelling the whole way. Of course by this point, I was crying uncontrollably and the man sitting across from me had officially decided that he had the worst luck ever.
“Il faut pas pleurer,” he told me. “You don’t have to cry.” “You’re coming back, right?” The fact is—I’m not. I won’t be back, not with these friends, not under the same conditions. So, here’s my last blog about Montpellier, the place I’ve called home for the last four months of my life.
Thanks for reading everything I had to write during my short stay here, and I hope that you have at least been slightly entertained if nothing else. One more when I get back to the States. Wish me luck.
Before our departure, two of my American friends, Zach and Larry, decided to have a party at their apartment called “Fancy Dress Ball.” It was a pretty good excuse for everyone to get really dressed up and have a great time for the last time together. My friend Steph and I got ready together, both wearing dresses, even if they weren’t that fancy, and we headed off to the party drinks and snacks in hand. We bought a bottle of vodka that said “bling bling” on it and thought it was pretty hilarious to find that in France. We took a picture with it in front of the Christmas tree because we are that lame.
The party was amazing and we got to see everyone in our program throughout the whole night (and a few Frenchies that managed to make friends with our crazy bunch over the course of the semester). We all had such a good time talking about how amazing the semester had been and saying things to each other in French back and forth, but I have to admit that we spoke English for the most part. We took a ridiculous amount of photos that night, thinking of how much we were going to miss one another, and each of them is priceless to me.
My friend Karen wrote a song about us to the tune of the Hanukkah song, and it was really hilarious, talking about all of the problems that we went through and how dumb we have looked sometimes in a foreign country.
Everyone loved it. Fancy Dress Ball lasted about a billion hours; really it went from 8pm until about 3am, and I loved every second. I cried a little on the walk back to my friend’s apartment to spend the night just knowing how many cool people I had met that all live so far away from me at home (especially the ones from France!) But, I guess if I wasn’t crying a lot toward the end, it wouldn’t have truly been a success now, would it? The truth is, I love it here; my friends, my life, my new language. I love it. I don’t want to leave. But, I have a lot of people waiting to see me at home, and I surely can’t wait to see them either. I think having mixed feelings like that toward the end of a long journey is normal, at least I’m telling myself that.
Akila took me to visit one of her friends who lives in Vigan and works as a school teacher. We went to take her some of the leftover couscous. We made way too much! Vigan is not very far away from Montpellier, only one hour, but it is high in the mountains and it was about ten degrees colder than Montpellier!
When we arrived at Francoise’s house (Akila’s friend) it was high in the mountains and had huge windows overlooking the town. It was amazing. Francoise drove us over to a canyon which is called Cirque de Navacelles. It’s a huge canyon that was formed by a river but now has a lot of houses and hotels at the bottom. It was so beautiful, but it was kind of hazy so I didn’t get great pictures.
We drove down to the bottom and went walking around there. Then we drove over to this other place called Cromlech which is a circle of stones like Stonehenge only a bit smaller.
Francoise told us that Vigan dates back to the Middle Ages and there are a lot of things in the county that are original from that time period. It was really neat to see. When we were outside visiting Cromlech, Eva, Francoise’s daughter, found these little red berries that if opened up are really itchy.
I can vouch for that because she opened one to show me and it got on my hand a little bit. It itched for the rest of the night! On the way back, Francoise stopped off at her school to show me a classroom at an elementary school.
I thought it was really interesting to see their school since my little brother is still in elementary school. I thought it was really cute and welcoming. Overall, I loved Vigan and think they are really lucky to live so close to those places. I would visit them all the time if I had the chance.
Since I arrived, everyone that I have met has told me how amazing Akila’s couscous is. Of course I believed them, but I was secretly wondering when I would get to try it. Finally Akila told me that she was going to invite some friends over for the weekend and she was going to make her world famous (or at least it’s pretty famous here in Montpellier) couscous.
We woke up early in the morning to go to the market and get some last minute items and then came back and started right away.
She told me that she usually starts getting everything ready in the morning so she isn’t rushing toward the end. The couscous was in two huge bowls on the table and in a pot she had lamb and chicken cooking for hours.
It was really cool to see how she prepared everything, and hopefully I will be able to remember it long enough to make it for my family when I get back. (I know they’re all hoping that too.) Anyway, we got ourselves ready throughout the day, and when the guests arrived everyone was remarking on how good the apartment smelled and that they couldn’t wait to eat it! I have to admit that I couldn’t wait either.
I invited a few of my friends over and Akila invited some of her friends too, and the only rule of the night was that no one could speak English (or talk American, as Akila puts it.) I invited Steph, Missy, and Jess, my friends from the program, and Akila had some of her friends that I had already met at another dinner party I went to last week. I’m quite the social butterfly.
Anyway, the night went off without a hitch and we just talked and had a great time, and at the end of the night Jess played on her guitar for us. My favorite was a song that she had written about her trip to Marseille, and half of it was in French!
It was so impressive, and she has a lovely voice. Anyway, Akila and her friends loved it, and it was an amazingly fun night. I know it’s really cheesy and girly, but I had so much fun that I started to get really sad about leaving here in only a few days. I called my parents after everyone had left and Akila and I finished the dishes, and I told them about how much fun I had and started to get a little choked up even.
You know, I realized right away that I would meet people in France that I wouldn’t be able to see very often because they live so far away, but I never really thought about it with the American friends that I have made here. I just kept thinking, oh, when we get back to the States, we’ll see each other again. But, now that I think more realistically, Steph and Jess live all the way in Pennsylvania which is pretty far away from Indiana. I’m going to have to make a special effort to keep in touch with everyone I’ve met here. They’re too amazing to forget anyway. And hey, I can always write letters, in French of course, for practice.