"When good Americans die, they go to Paris." - Oscar Wilde

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ten Things I Learned Living Abroad (My Final Post)

The day I left for France, I stumbled downstairs to where my father was reading the newspaper at the kitchen table. I was sobbing and he stopped what he was doing. He said, "Gabi, I know you're crying now, but you know what? In June, you'll be crying to leave." And as always, he was exactly right.

Last night I prepared to say goodbye to my girls, and we all wept together in Lien's bedroom. It's hard to imagine not seeing each other everyday or having our weekly dinners or going out on Thursday nights...but it all must come to an end. In honor of the past four months I've spent in France, I've written a list of the ten essential things I've learned abroad.

10. The French Aren't Heartless
Before coming to France, everyone warned me that the French were cold, intolerable people. They were wrong. I can't express how much gratitude I have for my host family, who invited me into their lovely home, cooked me wonderful meals, and always encouraged me to participate in their family outings. Further, French locals were always quick to offer help when they saw me fumbling with a map on the sidewalk. Even the Parisians treated me with respect. Just be kind and make an effort to speak the language. Don't be ignorant and write the French off as heartless people, because it's not true.

9. Always Live Like a Local
Sure, it's neat to tour when traveling. Who doesn't want to climb the Eiffel Tower or see the Colosseum? But you can only learn so much from seeing things. Instead, experience the life of a local, not a tourist. In France, I rode my bike to school each day, shopped at the open air market on Saturdays, and wasted time at caf├ęs. By doing this, I felt like I truly experienced French culture and could understand the French people a little better.
8. Baguettes Don't Have Calories
Yes, apparently you can eat as much bread as you want and still be healthier than Americans, who supposedly only eat cheeseburgers and fries. Hmm...

7. You Will Get Homesick
You will get homesick. I promise, you will. It will hit you at the strangest times and it can be crippling. My advice is to stay busy and surround yourself with fun people. You'll make it home eventually, but enjoy every moment abroad. You'll never experience another trip like this.
6. Nobody Parties Harder than Americans
I've visited 10 countries and I've concluded that nobody has more fun than Americans. Locals are always inviting American girls to their parties because we're cute and we know how to have a good time. Of course, if you're not smart, this can turn sour. European men view Americans as we're portrayed through popular media, which isn't accurate. So when going out, be sure you're with people you trust and if the Americans are hosting the party, there will definitely be good music, lots of food, and dirty dancing.

5. Traveling Makes You Appreciate Home
Touring country after country is tiring. And after a long, stressful weekend away from Angers, I realized there was nothing more beautiful than the "Angers St. Laud" train stop quickly approaching.
4. Make Time for the People You Love
This one is difficult. While it's important to keep in connect with the people at home, don't forget to enjoy yourself abroad. Your friends and family will always be there to comfort you when you're homesick or give you encouragement when you're feeling blue. Don't let their love go unnoticed. Send them postcards and call them once a week.

3. Stop
This is one of the most important things I've learned in France. We should all stop to enjoy the moment. In America, we're constantly driven by our ambitions to succeed. In France, everyone takes time to enjoy a coffee and chat with friends. I'm sure their lives are more enjoyable and their friendships are stronger because of it.

2. Knowing a Foreign Language is Indispensable
 Nothing makes you feel more hopeless than not being able to communicate. Learning a foreign language enables you to get around much easier, but it also gives you the opportunity to connect with locals. You'll learn much more about a culture by talking to those who immersed in ti. Also, you're less vulnerable when traveling and, hey, everyone thinks French is sexy.

1. These Are the Best People You Will Ever Meet
Moving to another country is scary. The language is unfamiliar and the smallest tasks, like grocery shopping, seem impossible. You cling to people who are like you, and the relationships that form are unforgettable. You're in this together, you help each other cope, you make each other laugh, and you might even travel to Brussels together. The people I've met on this trip are some of the greatest friends I've had, and it was a joy to meet them all.
Tomorrow morning I board a plan for Charlotte, North Carolina and then I transfer to Tri-Cities, Tennessee, where my family will be waiting for me. It's hard to believe that at dinnertime tomorrow, I'll be at home, eating Mexican food with the people I've missed all semester. Thank you all for reading my blog and showing your support through this awesome journey. To those of you at home, I'll see you soon.

Gros Bisous,


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Starting to Say Goodbye

Last night was our class dinner at Lien's. We gathered two dozen internationals with the promise of food and alcohol. The food was delicious, although I was stuffed after one plate, but the Chinese kids went for sixths and sevenths. How the hell are they so thin? Things changed when Louis, a kid who never shows up for class, rolls in with about five six-packs of beers and starts to distribute them to everyone. One of the Chinese girls gets on her knees and starts chugging a Heineken and the professor tries to keep the peace by passing around an apple tart.

I'm talking to Louis for a good bit of the night. He refuses to speak French, so we talked in broken English about America. Every effing day he asks me if I speak Indian and I always have to explain I'm Italian. Later, I corrected him when he said Italy was the most romantic country in the world. No, no, I said, France is the most romantic. Italy is the sexiest. It's like he was enlightened after that. The rest of the night, he told people I did what I did and looked how I looked because Italians were the sexiest people on earth. Aye.

We had plans to roll into the bars that night with 20 Chinese kids in tow, but they all ditched us while Lien and Adrianne were getting ready. We went to Soft to meet up with some of our friends who are leaving before the weekend. I met some French guy who told me to come to Peru with him next week, and when I told him I had a boyfriend he freaked out and apologized. Nah, nah, he's cool, I said. He told me I was beautiful and he couldn't help myself.

After this, Ashleigh tried to get us to go to Kare, but the music blows. Dancing to Jackson 5 remixes is fun for approximately ten minutes and then you hate yourself. We called a taxi, and that's when we had to bid goodbye to Zach, who was leaving for Oregon the next morning. I hated saying goodbye. With the Americans, there's a small chance we'll see each other again, but the Chinese kids can't even have Facebook. When will I ever see them? The thought is incredibly depressing and I'm dreading saying goodbye to my three girls. It's all good though. Today we're avoiding those thoughts by day-drinking at the park and eating last night's leftovers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Only Way to be Grateful?

Okay, I apologize for not updating my blog. It's finals week, so I've been studying non-stop (or not studying), but I've done well. I aced my history exam, which covered seven chapters and French history from Napoleon Bonaparte to WWII (150 years). My art history exam was this morning, and I feel like I did well. My language exams were easy, although I fucked up my oral expression. N'est pas grave. Now I'm finished until Saturday morning when I have my phonetics exam. I'm not worried, since I haven't made anything below an 18/20 in that class.

I'll be home in five days, and I'm struggling with a lot of mixed emotions. The days are long, so it seems like I'll never be home. I've had trouble sleeping recently because reality has finally hit me: I'm leaving France. During the day, I daydream about spending time with my boyfriend, Southern summers, weekly dinners at the General Morgan Inn with my family. At night, I cry. I'm going to leave my friends, people who I feel like I've known forever. I'm leaving my host family behind, and who knows when I'll see them again? All of our local spots, our favorite places to have picnics or grab a beer, they'll all be left behind. It's so overwhelming.

And so I think: I miss the comforts of home, my car, my shitty apartment, my cat...but I took them all for granted when I was the U.S. I came here, and I missed them. As excited as I am to be home, I know that after a week or so, I'm going to miss France. Once again, I'm going to take those American comforts for granted and wish I was back in Angers. Isn't this the terrible thing about human nature? We never realize what we have until it's taken away. Maybe we're only grateful when we're missing something we loved.