The best part about going to Paris last weekend was coming back.

On second thought, the best was the pastries that accounted for at least two of my three daily meals.

Just kidding. Although I really did eat pastries for breakfast and lunch. I had a lovely weekend in Paris, and my favorite part wasn’t my departure from that magical city. Leaving Spain for the first time this semester, though, changed my perspective on “home.”

Spain’s many regions are all quite different from each other, but the distinctions I’ve found traveling here don’t compare to what happened when I hopped on a plane to another country. After living in Madrid for over three months, in France I experienced what I can only describe as a mini-case of culture shock. This time culture shock was fun, not scary, since it was just for a few days. But whoever’s worried about the EU homogenizing the continent really doesn’t have much to worry about.

First of all, the bread tasted French. I can’t tell you exactly how, but Spanish bread has a different personality. Trust me, I’ve eaten a lot of bread in both countries. The French kind might be better. The Parisian metro, on the other hand, made me want to run for the exits. It’s faster than Madrid’s metro, but that must be because the conductor throws open the doors while the train is still hurdling into the dark, damp stations. As for the nightlife, I expected something out of Woody Allen’s cinematographic love letter to the city, Midnight in Paris. No, I was not expecting to time travel and meet Ernest Hemingway, nor to see the throbbing 2am crowds so common in Madrid, but I did think there would be vibrant street life after dusk. Instead, my friends and I were scoffed at when we tried to eat dinner at 10pm. I was more than a little surprised at how different I discovered the city to be from my European home.

The thing is, these differences didn’t detract from my trip, they added to it. Comparing Madrid and Paris is impossible; each is unique. I love Parisian architecture and coffee. I learned to jump onto the train platform with the rest of the locals – whee! And I did my best to avoid completely butchering the gorgeous language, though I’m sure I did anyway. I discovered that I adapted to Paris little by little, just as I adapted to Madrid. I could live in France and enjoy myself as much as the proudest patriotic Parisian. That, my friends, is a confidence-booster like no other.

Despite my newfound inner cultural chameleon, I felt relief and gratitude as soon as I sank into my seat on the return flight. I fell asleep dreaming of my bright, clean metro stop and the Spanish tortilla I would eat for dinner that night. When I woke up, we were on the tarmac back home. Those are the exact words that crossed my mind. Back home. I realize now that even though my roots will always be in California, I can pack home in my suitcase and take her with me wherever I go.