I think it is finally settling in that I am going to be abroad for a long time (9-10 months). This is not just 3 or 4 months abroad, not just enough time to get settled in and then wisked back to “reality”. This is my reality. Woah, scary and yet how exciting! The first month, there was a lot of adjusting. Besides the obvious differences in language and culture, a million other differences have altered my “reality”.
I now eat tomatoes. In the States, I ate tomatoes; maybe a little chopped up in a salad, a thin little slice on my cheese pizza, some sprinkled in with my Mexican rice (RIP American Mexican food, I miss you weekly). Now I eat whole quarters of tomatoes. I take a full tomato at a meal and enjoy it. Who is this strange creature?? I consume mushrooms and peppers and mussels (not happily), a tiny bit of stinky cheese every so often (because I don’t want to be kicked out of the country). I also inhale chocolate. Not much about that has changed except I eat it even more here… It is a blissful taste of heaven and so difficult to stop after that first bite.
I walk EVERYWHERE. Each morning I walk to school with Lisa (my Japanese sister), and every afternoon I walk home. If I go to the store, I walk. Down hills, up hills, back and forth. And it is growing on me! Until I walk 10 miles in a day and age 50 years overnight. But it is nice to have the walks everyday, and I seem to notice little things, like trees with bright red leaves the size of my head, that I might otherwise overlook. It also helps to work off all the chocolate I keep eating…
I also study (okay well not a lot, but some). You would think this would be obvious as I am “studying abroad,” but people opt to exchange that word for party more often than not while abroad. And by party, they mean an all night affair, beginning at 9 or 10pm and going until 4 or 5am... While many people study abroad as chance to have an easy semester and travel and do only fun things, I am here for a YEAR. I have been to some parties, seen some interesting things, been offered drugs (and declined the drugs) but my year requires more emphasis on the studying than partying. I am here to learn the language, so that I will be able to make a career (quite soon) out of something related to my studies. Believe it or not, learning a language is not as easy as being plopped in a country and “viola”, all the words are in your head. I know, I thought it was that simple before too! It is frustrating not to be able to say what I want to, not to remember a phrase after hearing it 5 or 10 times. But I was gifted some wonderful advice from Bianca (my Romanian sister) this weekend. I was expressing my frustration at not progressing faster, and she told me to relax, to enjoy everything as it happens. In time, it would come, but not to rush it.
The experience is not always the dream I had anticipated either. Some weekends there are no big travel plans. I am too tired from a week of school to go out. It is not always that Instagram perfect picture of traveling abroad. The hard moments that I had fretted about have come. And I miss home. Reality set in this past weekend, and I realized that while thankfully I will get to see my best friend in two weeks (love ya Abbey) and my sweet family for Christmas (as they are amazing and coming to see me), after that I won’t get to hug my mom or dad for 5 months. My little sister was chosen to be on the Homecoming Court, and I missed seeing this special moment this past weekend. And I was sad. But it passes! And then comes back, again. But that is life!
I am beginning to appreciate the little pieces of Americana that I get to experience every once in a while here. This past week I was able to eat some mashed potatoes, in honor of Canadian Thanksgiving (I did not know they had it either)!
My wonderful host mother bought me some peanut butter, which I have been eating by the spoonful. It is amazing to have these little comforts of home available. But even with all the people and comforts of home that I miss, life here seems a little more normal everyday, more so than I would have thought possible. Within the third week after being away for a little day trip and returning to Saint Etienne, I felt like I was home. It is not the same as “my home”, not as comfortable or normal for me. But the connection exists; and while it is scary to think of the many months I have before me, it is exciting to think of the second home that I can build here.
**I apologize for the obscene amount of “” and () in this post. It got a little out of hand.