Three Things You Learn When You Leave for Four Months

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I’ve been back on U.S. soil for less than 72 hours, but it already feels as if I never left. I am so happy to be home for the holidays and to be able to be with my family. Still, it has been a difficult transition so far. Jetlag has by far been the hardest thing to cope with; I get tired around 6:00 p.m. but have been forcing myself to stay awake while trying not to think about what time it is in Paris. Constant lethargy is something that I am expecting to accompany me for at least the next 5 days, and I’ve mostly just been resting at home since I’ve been back. I’ve also been trying to resist the urge to biz everyone I greet, a tendency that has now become impulsive.

Yet Paris is still constantly on my mind. I’ve been texting my friends and host family, mindlessly Franglishing with my slightly annoyed friends and family, and thinking about little parts of my time abroad. Since I’ve been back, I have been reflecting on everything I learned while I was abroad. Besides my classes and cultural excursions, there are three points that stick out in my mind as the most prominent lessons that have changed me the most.

  1. I have gotten MUCH better at geography. Seriously! I used to be really bad at knowing what country was next to which or where the English Channel was, but being a student abroad with friends who are constantly traveling to different capitals of different countries really oriented my global awareness without me having to try. The difference has been HUGE,  and I love seeing personal results of hands-on learning instead of memorizing names and places for a test. Since being back, I downloaded the app “Trivia Crack” on my phone and haven’t missed a single geography question!… well, the European ones, anyway.
  2. I live in a cultural bubble. Everyone does! Depending on the country or region, you are a product of your environment. Even though each country has world news, constant contact, and easy access to other countries, there are still things particular to each culture that are different depending on where you are. An example of this for me would be France’s view of the hijab. Politically, it is seen as an oppressive symbol of Muslim women. The U.S. has politically different views on the headscarf, which in turn affects citizen’s views on the subject. In the U.S., our right to religious freedom allows Muslim women to wear the hijab as they wish. I spoke more extensively on the subject in a previous post, where I talked about how living in France had caused me to change the way that I view the headscarf. Going to a new place helped me break out of the cultural bubble that I grew up in order to look at a controversial topic in a different light. So, even though every person is different, I believe that the country or region you grew up in has a very big effect on who you become as you grow.
  3. I never once regretted going. If you have the chance to study abroad, do it. Yes, it was very expensive (I had to save up for 3 years!), a lot of work applying for the CIEE external program that I chose as well as various scholarships, and scary at times before and during the trip, but I wouldn’t change my decision to study abroad for every baguette in France. Before travelling, I always had a sense that the world was so big and mysterious, and I only lived in one apartment in one city in one country of the planet. Now, I have a little bit more insight on what that big mysterious world looks like. Of course, not even the most well-travelled person would ever be able to experience each culture fully, but living abroad in a new place solidifies the fact that there are so many people in the world who have different lives and cultures and languages yet are still so human despite these differences.

Cliché as it sounds, I’ve been bitten by the travel bug. Seeing just a tiny part of our huge world makes me crave more of it. Being able to experience a city as amazing as Paris feeds the fire of seeing even more amazing places and meeting more incredible people. For now, I’m more than content to be back in Philadelphia, and I know that I’ll always want to come back here, but I still have a lot more of the world to see.

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