At first, it was just little things that threw me through the culture shock loop. Everything I was experiencing was dreamlike, and only vaguely familiar. Almost like I had experienced them in another lifetime.
“Why can’t I drive anymore? Who has the right of way again? What do you mean cops will actually do something about it? People do that here, like that's a thing now? Oh my gosh, running in altitude SUCKS!”
But then slowly, creeping up on me like a snake, big things became a problem. I couldn’t hold conversations, because I heard EVERYTHING going on around me...
Also, things that should be easy, like simple words in sentences, would get jumbled in my mind. I would be translating them from English to French, and then back to English and what would come out wouldn’t be either one of those languages. For the first three weeks, I would stare blankly at the person checking me out at stores, almost like I didn’t understand their simple “Did you find everything okay?”. I understood the words that came out of their mouth, I just couldn’t respond appropriately. It was frustrating. It's a scary feeling when your mind doesn’t feel normal. It's like there are a thousand things it wants to express, but your mouth just can’t say them.
However, the two most difficult things that I have been adjusting to, and what I am still struggling with the most, is the ever-present boredom I battle, and how much I miss people who can relate to me.
I am bored. I have just spent a year traveling, living in a fairytale where everything is new and exciting, and now I am back to a life that I had once been a part of. I know it sounds obnoxious, but it's the truth of it. This whole real-life thing is throwing me off the horse, and I don’t know how to get back on. The worst part is, those who would understand what I am going through aren’t around to hang out with. My friends who get ‘it’ (whatever it is) are scattered throughout the world, trying to get back to their own lives; dealing with their own ‘real world’ problems. Of course we text, we e-mail, we chat on the phone, but it's not the same as just giving them a look and having them completely understand. I miss the camaraderie of those people.
Sure, friends and acquaintances ask me how I liked France, and how my experience abroad was, but nobody really cares about the answer. I say “Fantastic! I had the best time.” and they smile and nod, and then change the subject. Which is fine, I get it. I don’t even know what I really want them to say to me…because trying to convey everything that I have experienced within the last year in a way where people would understand is impossible. I would just give an inadequate version of the truth. And I would be annoying.
Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to be back. I don’t hate things here. In fact, in many ways I am happier, and I definitely don’t take things for granted anymore! Life is just different, and I have to get used to it again.
In the last month, I have been reunited with my best friends, and that has been worth the return in every way. I’ve also seen my brother for the first time in a year and a half, and I have gotten to spend time with my niece who has grown so much! Personal choices are easier too! I have been able to wear jeans, boots and tie-dye without repercussions! I have been able to shoot guns, swim in the river, and most importantly, I have been able to frolic in my beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains again and live a simple life…and that has filled my heart in a way where all my adventures in Europe couldn’t.
Like I said, its just a matter of getting used to where I am. Looking back on all that I have done, and all the possibilities I have here in my own country….I can’t help but think of this quote:
“We travel not to escape life, but so that life will not escape us.”
Molly Dunn is a CEA student who studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence for the 2012-2013 academic year. You can find this post and many other about her experiences abroad in southern France on her blog.
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