As I was mentally, and if I’m honest somewhat emotionally, preparing for my short-term return trip to Paris, something I wondered was if Paris would be everything I kept dreaming it to be. Tying back to my first blog post, I wondered if I had in my mind a certain image of Paris that was all rainbows and butterflies because that’s what I wanted to see and remember. But the more I thought about this and the more I talked about it with my friends, I realized that Paris would always be the same to me. Rather is was home, specifically Nashville, that had changed the most.
One of the greatest advantages and benefits of studying abroad, I believe, is the chance to truly grow in ways you never imagined because you’re in a culture you didn’t grow up in. This is similar to what happens when you first go to college: leaving home and going somewhere new. Likewise, it is one of the biggest disadvantages when you return; it’s like going back in time. Everything reminds you of who you were before this whole “life-changing experience.”
The truth is every year of our lives is a “life changing experience” that happens no matter where we are, and each moment brings us closer to the people that we spend it with. So when you experience these moments and changes in a completely new city with new people, you form a bond. Then you return home without that city and without those people, and you realize that many of your close friends missed out on a lot of changes you made while you were gone and vice versa. You have four months (if not more) of “un-shared” experiences. This place (home) that used to play such an important role in who you were becoming is now only a place that reminds you of who you were before.
When I first got back to Nashville, it was hard not to sit in my nostalgia and reminisce about Paris (hence why I bought plane tickets back to Paris so quickly). This truly is the biggest obstacle that presents itself to everyone who comes back from studying abroad. Regardless of where we go, life keeps moving. But when we come back home, it feels as if we’ve gone back in time. It’s a weird complex of the past and future coming together at the same time. The city is still the same but all our memories are from the “pre-study abroad” self. We look at the city with new eyes but only see old things because of a four month gap from this place.
However, sitting in this nostalgia will get us nowhere. When we only let study abroad be just that time spent in a foreign country and don’t let it affect who we are when we come back, we aren’t taking advantage of one of the greatest benefits of studying abroad in the first place. The longer you let yourself stay in this mindset, the harder it’s going to be to move forward out of it.
Once I started incorporating the things that I loved about my life in Paris into my life in Nashville, I started seeing Nashville with new eyes again, appreciating it for what it has to offer and really beginning to take advantage of my growth from study abroad. My relationships, free time, and many of my priorities changed significantly. I looked for ways that I could incorporate French in my weekly routine and could find French people to hang out with. I realized that I wanted everyone to study abroad, so I decided to be a CEA Alumni Ambassador and talk to every single person about how to study abroad. I started making little changes that reminded me of how I spent my time in Paris, and it made the transition back to Nashville not only easier but also so much more enjoyable. It let me bring my "Parisian self" back home.
Because I will forever associate Paris as a major reason for who I am and who I am becoming, it will always be the same in my eyes. In December, when I walked through my old neighborhood, every street and every shop flooded my brain with memories about how I had changed and grown during my time abroad. I found that nothing about Paris was different for me. This person who I am today is a result of what took place in these streets. In fact, how I’m continuing to grow today is still a result of things that happened during my study abroad experience. The beautiful thing is that I don’t have to leave those memories and growth in the past or in Paris. I can choose to bring them with me wherever I go. Though Nashville may feel a little different these days, it is still a place I can call home. My trip over Christmas break reminded me that it’s not always about where you are but more so about what you make of the moments you spend there and how you let them continue to shape you long after you’ve left.
|Kelsea (middle left) with fellow Alumni Ambassador, Mary (far left), and Alumni Tori and Laurann (right)|
Kelsea Riddick is a CEA alumna (Paris Spring ’14). She is an Alumni Ambassador and senior at Belmont University.
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