If I’ve learned anything from this crazy, beautiful, heartbreaking experience of studying abroad, it’s that I can’t possibly predict who I’ll be because of it. What will I do with my life after graduation? Where will I live? Will I even be in the U.S.? But last weekend I was reminded that it’s ok to not know the answer to every life question. Life is a wild ride and these twenty-something years are just the starting blocks.
Last weekend I went to Switzerland – the land of chocolate, cheese, and international relations. This trip was more than tourism – although I did walk away with some postcards and Toblerone – it was about furthering my understanding of my francophone family. Years before my existence was even a possibility, my mother was a twenty-year-old study abroad student in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. I’ve heard stories since I was a child of her year spent in that gorgeous country and I’d always dreamt of following in her footsteps.
It’s so hard to imagine what studying abroad looks like, before it actually happens and once I started living my own life abroad, I couldn’t help but wonder what my mom’s experience resembled. So I booked my flight to Switzerland without much of a plan and it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made this semester.
After I told my mom about my plans to visit Switzerland, she found her former host family on the internet and arranged for me to meet them. Along with another friend from IES, I met my mother’s host parents, their daughter, and three grandchildren. We ate a raclette dinner, a traditional Swiss meal, and held long conversations in French at their home.
The next day, my mother’s host father drove me to Neuchâtel and gave me a tour of the town. He pointed out the major sights and took me to the house where my mother lived with his family almost forty years ago. After he returned to his home, I took the time to explore the town on my own and imagine my mother at my age walking around the small, picturesque town that is situated on a mountain overlooking a lake.
It’s incredible to think that that year in Switzerland spurred my mother’s wanderlust, pushing her to travel the world from Ivory Coast, to Canada, to Mexico, and of course to France where she met the man who would become her husband and my father.
I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to see the country that influenced my mother to such an extent and I can’t wait to see how my experience in Nantes will impact the rest of my life.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Katie Nodjimbadem is a junior at Northwestern University majoring in journalism and planning to minor in French. She enjoys writing about diversity and culture for North by Northwestern magazine and loves interacting with prospective students as a campus tour guide. Katie bleeds purple and loves to cheer on her fellow wildcats at varsity sporting events. As the daughter of two Francophone parents, she desires to improve her French to better understand her heritage and strengthen her ties with her extended family.</span></p>