Last night I had to say goodbye. I walked to the Eiffel Tower one last time to watch it sparkle. I spent the evening at my favorite cocktail bar with all my favorite people from the semester. We were chatting and laughing about memories from our times together. At the end of the night, we gave our hugs and said our goodbyes, not knowing when we will see each other again. Now I'm sitting on my flight back home trying to process the last three months, preparing for the repetitive question "How was Paris?"
How do I even begin to answer that question? I feel like if I want to give a full and accurate answer I'm going have to sit down and talk someone's ear off for a few hours and I really doubt anyone will really want that. So how was Paris? Paris was this crazy learning experience. Paris was a daily adventure. Paris was a struggle. Paris was charming. Paris smelt terrible. Paris was surprisingly friendly. Paris was exhausting. Paris made me slow down to enjoy things. Study abroad is an experience that is so personal that I think the hardest part of the whole thing is trying to explain it to someone else.
The easiest thing for me to say is that I have grown more in the last three months than I ever could have imagined. Now I totally believe what people say about how going abroad changes you. Choosing to study abroad isn't about the classes you take there or the amount of new places you get to see. It's about the things you learn through those experiences. That's what is so special about study abroad. It's the one time in your life where you are going to be thrown out alone in a totally unfamiliar situation and you have to figure out how you are going to make the most of it. That is what I am going to take with me "post-abroad."
I learned a lot about myself. I had a lot of personal time while here abroad. Wandering the city alone or taking solo trips, I definitely hung out with myself more than anyone else. I will preach how important this is till the day I die because there is no one else in the world that you are going to be stuck with every day except you so it's so important to get to know and like yourself. When abroad you have this awesome opportunity to grab every opportunity to go out and see things even if it is on your own. When you're exploring solo you are in charge of making the decisions of what to do. You find out exactly what you like, without the outside influence of another person's preferences being taken into account. Walk into that cute place that caught your eye without asking someone if they would want to do that too. Sit and read in that coffee shop for three hours if that's what you want to do today. This is your time. I know I learned so much about what I really enjoy to do. Things that I wouldn't have thought to try out at home because I let little things hold me back from thinking. But in Paris I just did it and now I can't wait to keep that with me when I'm home.
Of course, there was the culture. I learned so much more about French culture than any classroom could have taught me by going out and living in it every day. At home, I will probably do a lot of comparing and say "well in France they.. " because there was so much that was different from what I've grown up in, and that became what I was used to. French culture is so different and special. It has its quirks. Like any culture, it has its pros and cons. There's things I learned to love and others that I still don't understand, and I'm ready to get away from. Now I could list a few of the cultural differences that I learned about or adapted to when in Europe, but I don't want to. I don't want to because that's all a part of going abroad. Learning these kinds of things on your own along the way through every experience, good or bad. That's what makes it special. Knowing the French culture because I lived in France.
Now to go home and take what I learned from Paris and make sense of it in the states. Paris was an amazing experience. I am so glad I took this opportunity of a lifetime to live in a foreign country as a student. This is a time in my life that I won't be able to forget. Thank you Paris for everything you gave me and taught me during our time together. I'm excited to see when we meet again, but until then, I can't wait to get back to my real home in California.