"So, what will you miss about Strasbourg?"
As this semester winds down to a close (I have only two short weeks left!), I find myself torn between two lives, that of a hometown American girl and this "voyageuse" that I have become over the last few months. Studying for finals and talking with family and friends makes me feel more ready than ever to go home and enjoy Christmas as it always has been, but at the same time I cannot believe I am leaving this second home for what could be a very long time. Sure, I will come back some day, probably with a husband and tiny blonde children, and just wander around these streets that have become so familiar to me, so second nature. It still amazes me, however, that I have been here for four months on my own, at twenty years old, and its coming to an abrupt end. Never again will I have the opportunity to live in another country and experience its customs as more than just a tourist. I live in Strasbourg: I know its shops, I've met its people, I've studied the language, and I've learned - a lot. I've learned about France, and I've learned about myself. Why did I come here? I came to study, to speak the language I've devoted myself to since I was 14 years old. I came to make friends, and I did (though, they aren't exactly French). I came to travel, and that I have, from all around Alsace, to the south of France, to Italy, Germany and Ireland. I've become independent, having had to navigate my way through an entire city after having lived in a small town my entire life. I've started to learn to cook, and I've developed a keen taste for wine. I've realized the importance of my relationships back home, and how strong they really are despite the distance. This experience has become, for me, a dip into the waters of adulthood, and that speaks volumes for a girl who once refused to call and make appointments for herself and lacked that oh so challenging skill of making pasta. I've certainly had my ups and downs, from standing on what seemed like the top of the world, to breaking down in tears over missing people and not-so-impressive test scores, but that's how you learn. For example, even though my skills in writing and speaking have improved and my comprehension has gotten much better, I still struggle with the oral comprehension, where you listen to a tape and have to answer questions according to what you hear (which usually goes by very quickly). When I received what was probably the worse score of my life, I was devastated, but my good friend Kerri taught me a valuable lesson. She said, "Carolyn, one day, you are going to be a French teacher, and you will probably have a kid in your class who seems like a mess-up and who just doesn't 'get it'. Before you got this grade, you probably wouldn't have understood him, because you've always had perfect grades. But now, now you know how it feels, and you can sympathize with him or her and help them to realize their full potential." And it was that grade that made me work harder so that I could really do my best to succeed this semester. Whether my finals will be a success, one can only hope. But if you ask me when I come back whether my semester abroad was a "success," the only response I will have is "absolument," because, well, I've learned.
Now, I know each and every one of you is going to see me at some point when I get back to the States, and the first thing that you will ask will be something along the lines of, "What was your favorite part? What will you miss the most?" Well, after thinking about it, I can't come up with just one response. So, here are the things I will miss most about Strasbourg, France :
- Going to Banette, or any boulangerie for that matter, to buy a Chausson aux pommes
- Walking through the markets at Place Broglie
- Seeing everyone, and I mean everyone, ride their bikes
- Strolling along the Île and seeing the swans swim by the Gallia bridge in front of l'Église Saint-Paul
- Hearing French everywhere I go
- My phonetics class ("Phonétiques")
- Fresh French baguettes
- The Christmas markets, and the lights that have gone up all around the city (It's the Christmas Capital of the World!)
- Getting a kick out of Herr Otto's chuckle and general demeanor in Beginner German with the other BCA students
- Girls nights at Irish Pubs! [and one in particular]
- Eating Tarte Flambée and Moelleux au Chocolat on the tiny street next to the Cathedral
- Watching French kids run around and play in the leaves or the snow, speaking adorable broken French with better style than some adults in America
- Frequent visits with friends to the Amorino Gelato shop in front of the Cathedral
- The architecture, from the wooden beam work in the old Alsatian houses, to the Gothic style of the Cathedral, to the black wrought iron balconies of French apartments
- Our "weekly cave" on Tuesdays: Subway for lunch with Kerri, Claire, and Emily
- Being able to take a train just about anywhere, and within a day or two experience a completely different European culture
- Independence: Doing what I want, when I want, how I want.
- Being able to speak French to anyone I so choose
- Cobblestone streets and those neat stores you can only find when you explore
- Writing letters to Justin, and coming back to my apartment with one from him on my desk
- The relaxed attitude at restaurants: Eat, but then stay and talk for hours, maybe even people watch - None of that "eat and run"
- The red geraniums in all the windows of La Petite France
- The old houses that line one block, and how they are each a different color with different colored shutters
- Being able to go to a book store, and smile knowing every single book around me is in French
- And finally, all the wonderful friends I have made (Kerri, Emily, Amanda, Pam, Claire, Nicki, Allison, among others)
I may not be upset as I head home two weekends from now, because I really am beyond excited to see Justin, my family and all my friends back at Susquehanna, but I will without a doubt hit a point where I start thinking of all these things, and what I would give to experience them one more time. For now, I will enjoy what's left of my time here, and realize that all good things come to an end, maybe not forever, but for now. I appreciate everyone who has helped me through this experience, whether it be through supportive words, a smile over the computer, some money to help me make my traveling dreams come to life, a card to wish me Happy Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas, or simply a kind thought my way. I feel so blessed to have each and every one of you by my side through it all, and will feel the same once I'm home continuing my college experience and realizing new dreams for myself. Because of you, in twenty, thirty, forty, even fifty years from now, I can say that I once lived and studied in the beautiful country of France, and had the experience of a lifetime.
Merci et bisous,