The Shock of Living Abroad

Anna Northenscold
November 1, 2021

Today marks the halfway point since arriving in Nantes, France. How has time managed to pass so quickly? There’s so much that has happened in the past month and a half I’ve been abroad and I’m not sure a blog post can do it justice. However, I’ll do my best to sum up a few of the highlights.

Traveling during Covid-19: There are so many emotions that swirl around at every step of this process that once you start feeling one way something unexpected changes it. The thing I was dreading more than anything else was definitely the air travel. I’d never flown by myself to a foreign country before so I was shocked when I landed in France and realized I made it there all by myself. However, once that chore was checked off the list of things to do, I started getting nervous about meeting the group and making close friends. One of the things that was really helpful was that our program had a WhatsApp group chat which allowed all of us to communicate during the travel day. The group chat helped alleviate some of my anxiety about finding friends since the people in the chat already seemed so chatty. When I stepped off my plane into the Charles de Gaulle airport I was so relieved to know that other students were also already at the train station waiting too. As I took the escalator down to the SNCF TGV terminal, I started to get nervous. My palms were sweaty and I felt like fatigue was setting in as it had been almost 15 hours since I had last gone to bed. It was a strange feeling standing in the middle of the escalator too because, in addition to being in a foreign country, I was also having to get used to the number of people that were all around in the airport. It was especially busy in the train station as everyone was waiting for trains to arrive and depart. Most people were finding pillars to congregate around, charging stations, and benches to rest on. Looking all around, I realized at that moment that it was the first time I was in such a crowded space as this since Covid-19 had hit. It felt strange. Just beyond the bottom of the escalator, I saw a group of people sitting who looked like students so I took a chance and decided to just walk over and start speaking. “Est-ce que vous êtes les étudiants avec d’IES?” (Are you all students with IES?)

Making Friends and Settling In: It’s crazy to look back now and think about how nervous I was to meet people and make just one solid connection. I remember telling myself, “I just need one friend and then I know I’ll be okay.” Fast forward to halfway through the program and I feel like I’ve made so many wonderful friendships that I’m never going to forget. I can’t express enough how incredibly grateful and amazing every person is in our Nantes program. From day one, I feel like I’ve always had someone to chat with or go grab a quick lunch whether it’s at the IES Abroad Center after classes or on the university campus. My friend RJ and I always meet for our literature course at the Univerité de Nantes campus for our 2.5-hour lecture then grab lunch after. The meal after is typically when I try to ask RJ all of my questions that I had in class but was too nervous to pose to our very French professor, who speaks so fast I always feel like my brain is like a solid 10 seconds behind as I’m sprinting to translate what he says, and of course to make sure that what I thought was happening is indeed what the professor said. If it wasn’t for RJ (who is definitely one of the best French speakers I’ve met) I wouldn’t be able to make it through that course. You will find yourself in moments like these where you realize how much everyone leans on each other. Both for academics but also for personal life things too. 

The conversations I’ve had with various people on my study abroad trip have shocked and inspired me in numerous ways. Yesterday, on a metro line to Versailles, my friends and I dove into a conversation about the heaviness that grief and loss can bring. One of our friends had experienced this personally and so we all listened as they shared their story. Gradually, others began to add anecdotes of other similar experiences too. Friends, family members, connections through direct connections, everyone had something or someone they were thinking of. Time passed on our ride and eventually, we found ourselves realizing how far our conversation had gone. It was a surreal moment where you don’t expect to be sharing something so personal with people on a 40-minute metro ride but also feels so normal. All of us come from such different places in life but somehow our paths all intersected to be together at this moment in time. For me, I think that the ability to just share new memories with these people but also get to know them on a deeper level is what has been one of my favorite parts of this entire journey. Now that we’re halfway through I am genuinely freaking out about having to say goodbye to all of these people. Thankfully though, we still have another month and a half together. 

“OMG I can-Nantes believe I live here!”: Okay, forgive the incredibly cheezy play on words in my title...but I had to. In all honesty, I have this thought passing through my brain almost every day. This trip has been such a long time coming and after a year and a half in the lockdown, I feel this extra pressure to constantly be soaking in everything. The beautiful old buildings, the incredible food that is everywhere, all of the drop-dead gorgeous sites we’ve been to which is almost everywhere you turn now that the fall foliage is in full swing, and each moment that I have with all of the amazing people in the program. I have this thing I do though which I’ve done since I was a kid called snapshots. It’s like taking a photo or small video but just with my mind so I can mentally have it on replay. I mentioned this to my friends when we were all standing together when my friend Clare said, “oh my god, you do that too?!” It might sound super weird and totally cliché but that’s what you have to do while on this trip. There’s a neverending stream of memories that I have all the time. Whether it’s seeing my friend Kira napping in literally any place (like in public on the Starbucks couch wrapped like a burrito with her jacked on top, the floor of IES after our 8:30 am French class because we were awake until 4 am dancing, or even the coffee shop leaning against a pillow on a wall that has a mirror which every customer in the room can view), my friend Callie’s laugh and her ability to make friends with anyone wherever we go (she disappears for 40 minutes and comes back having met other Americans or French people and an invite to visit them when/if she visits Canada), or connecting on a deep level with my friend Micah due to the fact that we have been “borrowing” toilet paper for Kleenex from our host family as we struggle to get over our colds– those are some of the memories I have on repeat in my mind.

I knew before I even left that the time was going to pass by fast. However, I didn't anticipate how difficult it was going to be to stop myself from anticipating the end while still in the moment. Now that half of the semester is officially over, I'm trying to continue to just enjoy every moment that I have here with these people.

Anna Northenscold

<p>Hello Everyone! My name is Anna and I'm a senior at Luther College. I'm studying English and French as a double major. This fall semester, I'm joining the Nantes - French Language Immersion &amp; Area Studies program for three months. I look forward to being able to take you along with me as I set off for this next adventure. I'm hoping to make some good connections, eat lots of food, and learn more about the Nantais while abroad. Some things I like to do in my free time are spending time with family and friends, cooking/baking, finding new places to visit locally or travel to, running and hiking, and having good conversations with new people. I'm a big extrovert so I love doing almost anything as long as it involves other people.</p>

Home University:
Luther College
Minneapolis, MN
French Language
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