And the answer is oui and non.
Oui because tomorrow I’m leaving with the group for Paris, for our last four days together as a group before I head back state-side while others stay in Europe to travel or visit family or fly back to the good ‘ole US of A. And non because adieu means goodbye forever whereas au revoir means goodbye for now. France, this is definitely goodbye for now. You are not getting away from me that easily.
It was this morning (also our last day at language school–what will I do with four hours of my day now!?? Oh right. Take exams in Paris. Hmm. J’adore) that it hit me how much France has grown on me and how much I will miss it. In a good way. I don’t think it feels presumptuous now to say that I “get it”, get France, in a big way now. Pretty sure I held my own in every conversation I’ve had with with my home stay families in Paris, Pau, and Nice about the 2012 presidential election, French culture, contemporary social issues like immigration, and French history. And by pretty sure I mean that I really did. In some ways, I now understand France better than I understand the United States after studying France under a highly focused academic lens and through the uncensored medium of personal experience in three very different parts of the country. I have lived with French families. I have interviewed French professionals about topics like French education, social class, and religion. In French. I have studied several textbooks in depth and have taken too many tests. I have written papers, scrambled to learn 30 vocab words in 15 minutes before our sometimes fourth class of an 8 hour day when we were on campus (can you say, everyday of weeks 1-7?? I’m surprised I lived through that period of my life.) I have journaled on my own in some degree almost everyday. I have kept this blog. I have gone to language class 4 hours a day four days a week, with cultural excursions all the other times. I have been pressed into a bus, metro, train far too many times for too long (most recently from Eze to Nice on a bus where someone blew chunks on the way down because the driver didn’t hesitate to take all the magnificently horrible turns at full speed. The view was sublime–along the coast of the azure Mediterranean–but the smell was rank. Luckily for us we had just visited a parfumerie, Fragonard, in the village of Eze and had some leftover perfume testing strips in our pockets. Had one up my nose. For the whole hour. Thanks be to God.) And I won’t mention all the cathedrals, monuments, museums, restaurants, patisseries and boulangeries I have visited. So yeah, you could say that I’ve had an ample dosage of French culture. Definitely way more than your average American college student or tourist. Or American in general, for that matter. I feel as if I have been here for at least a year. Mon dieu. In reality it has only been 7 very, very, very intense weeks.
I look back at the photos posted on Facebook of our abroad group eating dinner while we were on campus. I see us smiling. We look a little pale and sleep deprived. But alive. Part of me still whispers “You’re going to make it!” to the us a few weeks ago because little did we know what we were in for even after the craziness of our on-campus France studies. But now I can honestly say to those bygone images of our past selves: “By the grace of God, we did it.” Literally, don’t know how else it got done. We’ve lived and learned and loved through one mother of an abroad program. It took each one of us working our butts off on four hours of sleep night after night on campus to complete Sanford’s horrendously long reading assignments, plus the questions (French history class), Heather’s massive art history tests, four weeks in a row (we took a semester long course–15 weeks–in 4 weeks; like I said, somehow it all worked out ok, though it felt like there were more than a few close calls), our pages of French grammar out of a very confusing French workbook, all in French (how helpful; I though I was supposed to be learning this language), not to mention our other two courses, Culture and Sociology. Oh la la, shoot me now. But I didn’t shoot me; I kept going. We all did. And now we’re almost at the end of our journey, certainly transformed in many ways: culturally, academically, spiritually. Really, I could go on for posts upon posts about how much we learned and worked through. It’s actually kind of amazing and I think only my abroad group and myself will forever be the ones who truly know what we’ve been through and how hard we’ve worked. Good job, guys. That doesn’t even begin to cover it.
So as I write this, boeuf tartare rumbling gently in my stomach, (it wasn’t steak tartare, but more like a patty; it was definitely mostly raw. And you know what guys? I liked it) I am so filled with gratitude that it makes me sleepy. The amount of things we’ve done has been mind blowing and it’s not even over yet. I mean, hello!? I have studied French for 8 months and now I am very conversational, can understand most things, have been told in every city that I have a great accent. Woooot! Best compliment you can give this American learning French. I am positive that I will need all summer to digest this last semester. It takes a lot of time, contemplation and thought to chew an experience long enough to extract a lesson, some meaning, and then move in for the next bite. And like I said, I will be back. This is not adieu. It is merely goodbye for now.
I have just now been invited back to Nice anytime by my incredibly hospitable French home stay mom, Dominique. Honestly, I don’t even want to think of traveling for a while but I know that I will take her up on that someday. France has become a teacher to me. She’s taught me a lot about what’s important to me– why I value what I value. I love her people, her language, her landscapes, seascapes, her culture, her history, her future. I look forward to my return already. In the meantime, I just spent the hour and a half I set aside to pack to write this post so I guess I should probably start thinking about throwing some stuff into my backpack. Here we come Paris. Just a few more tests and definitely a lot more good to be had before I am en route to San Francisco, et chez moi. Bonne nuit ; )