“Well, this is embarrassing.” That’s the apologetic message I receive whenever my Firefox browser unexpectedly closes and requires a do-over. Appropriately enough, it also describes my sentiments regarding my blog’s absence since I returned to American soil more than three months ago. I suppose I could pretend that it was simply part of my master plan to hold off on reflecting until I came back to Georgetown, citing that I wanted to compare the two academic and social university experiences before attacking the keyboard. However, that would be a convenient un-truth.
The truth is I had very lofty expectations for my final wrap-up blog. Of course, I wanted to dazzle my readers (should I still have any – ha!) with a satisfying conclusion as a small thank-you for all the enormous support I received while away. But even more importantly, before tackling my last entry, I wanted to feel like I had sufficiently and deeply reflected on the moments that have stayed with me, the moments I’d rather forget, and the ways I had grown in appreciation and understanding of myself and of the cultural idiosyncrasies I had encountered (yada yada yada). But the expectation that I would be able to wrap up five months’ worth of outside-the-classroom lessons into one tidy package and tie a bright pink bow around it was foolish. At least, the expectation that this kind of enlightenment would suddenly appear to me in a single “Aha!” moment was foolish. Enough is enough, I finally determined. I’m letting myself off the proverbial hook. So instead of worrying about concluding my little jaunt in the blogosphere with enough pomp and circumstance, I’ll just share some of the experiences and thoughts that have been recently resonating with me and hope that it will do justice to the complex and exhilarating nature of my time in Paris.
Throughout my semester, I often told family and friends that studying abroad seemed special because my most valuable learning was happening outside of the classroom. That’s why I started titling each of my blog entries as types of “lessons” – these lessons were, in many ways, much more important to my personal growth (and dare I say, survival) than, say, memorizing psychology experiments about five-year-olds. Constantly confronted with foreign mindsets, habits and approaches to communicating, I was forced to develop a stronger brand of independence and a greater sense of fearlessness. If I had a question and didn’t speak up and admit it, it wasn’t going to get answered. If I didn’t traipse around the city looking for new libraries, I wasn’t going to find a place to be productive. If I didn’t freak out about overpaying once or twice for a croque monsieur, I wouldn’t have had a sense of when I was offered a good deal. If I didn’t attempt to articulate more complex ideas, I wouldn’t have learned from my grammar and vocabulary mistakes. If I didn’t get lost, I wouldn’t have found some of the hidden gems of Paris.
The funny and great thing about this is that I’m not certain I would have developed any of these skills had I not been dumped into a foreign country and encouraged to sink or swim. One of my recurring anxieties before I left the States and even for the first two months of my stay was that not everyone is cut out to study abroad and that, despite my best intentions, going abroad and all the change it involves just wasn’t something my own personality could handle. I typically avoid change like the plague, I regularly have small bouts of homesickness and the idea of “bravely marching into the unknown armed with nothing,” as goes the line in You’ve Got Mail, seriously challenges my stomach muscles. But I did it anyway. Probably out of fear that I would never forgive myself if I at least didn’t try, I might add. And in the end, I loved all that France had to offer me – the good and the mind-numbingly frustrating.
In fact, it’s very possible that one of the reasons I procrastinated writing about my time so obstinately was that I was afraid I’d do little more than affirm some old clichés. Oh well. They’re clichés for a reason – you use them like throwaway lines all the time without really thinking about what they mean. In this case, I lived them organically and then could find no better way to describe my feelings. So, yes, this was a “journey” in every sense of the word (though I hesitate to use the term with the same ease and frequency as you find on any episode of The Bachelor). Yes, I grew in independence and in an ability to see issues as more complex and more culturally relevant. And yes, I gained a greater awareness of self. But it’s one thing to write and talk about it all and quite another to live it.
So although my first forays into living abroad and blogging are now officially behind me, I pledge to take up new goals, while continuing to nurture and maintain the skills I have acquired. I’ll keep in mind that great memories are based on the company you keep, not the place you’re in. I’ll remember to not sweat the small stuff and keep a good sense of humor about me when plans are utterly foiled. I’ll embrace the ambiguous more often and I’ll rely on myself to tackle those opportunities that will be rewarding, yet nerve-wracking.
I’ll grow. I’ll reflect. I’ll achieve.
I’ll find a mantra that’s less hokey.
Anyways, thanks for coming along for the ride.