My last days in Nantes were filled with goodbyes and hurriedly buying souveniers for friends and family. Surprisingly, they were also filled with meeting new people because my program had its 50th anniversary! Thus, during my second to last week in France, the IES Abroad Center was filled with adults reminiscing on their time spent in Nantes and trying to impart wisdom on those of us in the midst of our stay. I felt lucky to have recieved a plethora of advice from the alumni- which ended up pushing me to add a few more goals to my never ending bucket list. For example, one woman I spoke with ended up using her French in Martinique to do research on Caribbean creole identities. Another man told me studying abroad is what pushed him to pursue a PhD in literature and eventually become a professor. While their experiences were at opposite ends of the spectrum, they both cited their time abroad as what sparked something within them, and that 'something' ultimately pushed them to never let go of the lofty goals they had set for themselves. Conversations like these reaffirmed my desire to continue improving my French and to find some way to use it in my future career. Most importantly, all of my conversations had one general theme: keep traveling no matter what.
Now that I'm back home I feel...weird. This isn't the first 5 month stretch I've been away from home, but it is the first time I've been away from home and in another country. The reverse culture shock has set in in ways I didn't expect it to. Like when my mom picked me up from the airport and I almost started hyperventilating because we were on a five lane highway-a huge difference from the cute little streets Nantes had to offer. Or the fact that there are fast food restaurants and gas stations lining most major streets. Or the fact that I can't buy a pain aux chocolate whenever I want. Basically, the environment in the US is a bit grittier than that of France and I have less of an ability to take a train on a whim and galavant all over the country. However, what has surpised me the most about returning home is how big everything is. From our cars, to our meal portions, to the sizes of our houses, most things in the United States are on an excessively large scale. This observation has pushed me to start getting rid of things I don't necessarily need, and focus on making sure the quality of whatever I'm buying or experiencing is truly worth it. Overall, my time in France was-here comes the cliché-life changing. I learned that I can handle exploring the world alone and find satisfaction in that scary place just outside my comfort zone. So, I plan to keep pushing myself and finding ways to make traveling an integral part of my life.