À Bientôt, France

It took me 139 days to realize I had fallen in love. It took 4 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days to realize that I had been denying the truth all along. It was an unexpected revelation I had on my last evening in France. I was completely alone when it hit me that it was too late, that there was nothing I could do now to change the situation that I was in. It was something I had hidden from my closest friends, something I had hidden from myself. Time and time again I had denied the possibility of it, had even advocated against it. There was no way I could be in love. But as the sun took its place behind the sky, I looked up at the cathedral’s breathtaking architecture as its stain glass windows glistened under the fading light. And that was all it took–I was in love with Reims, France. My friend Daniella always said that Reims is the “greatest city in the world,” and as I’m sure she will tell you, I was an avid opponent of this idea. The past four and a half months have been a time where I’ve seen some of the world’s greatest cities, experienced moments that one one will ever understand, and felt emotions that I didn’t even know were possible to feel. The journalist in me just couldn’t accept the fact that Reims was (is) the “greatest.” There were too many variables, too many unexplored places in the world, too many “dents” in Reims to really grant it this “great” title. It just didn’t add up. But here I am: 139 days later. I took 11 flights, visited 8 countries and 17 cities, and rode in 16 blabla cars and 2 megabuses. I grew incredibly close to 15 people,  ate probably 20 cans of pringles and 40 apple sauce packets, walked home at 5:00 a.m. at least 4 times, and added 1,154 photos to my Facebook albums (sorry for the spam). Together, it all meant 1 incredible journey. A journey I’m not so sure I’m ready to say goodbye to, a journey that I will never forget.

These have been the best five months of my life.

Merci beaucoup:

1. My tiny studio apartment

Thanks for making me live in the tightest living quarters of my life. While I didn’t use my stove until May, the shower flooded into my hallway on numerous occasions, and the breakfast was sub par, your location was clutch. I made a lot of memories in the times I actually spent there. Even though there was a moment where I lost my keys for 2 weeks, the endless supply of wifi and heat made for ideal conditions.

P.S. Thanks for the awesome mirror pics.

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2. The plethora of boulangeries

Before I moved to France, I thought I would never get sick of a good baguette. It turns out that it’s actually possible to become very, very sick of baguettes. What made the boulangeries special was the relationships I was able to form with the owners who quickly learned my order and simply smiled at me even when they knew I was pronouncing things wrong.  You were there for me when I desperately needed a sandwich and some jus de pomme. I’ll never forget the time I walked home from a club with 3 of my best friends at 6 a.m. and you came in clutch by being open and selling us   fresh pain au chocolat.

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3. The cathedral

I’m still in awe of your beauty, and I think I will be forever. Notre Dame in Paris has nothing on you and pictures don’t do you justice. I think that I sometimes took you for granted, walking past you with too much of a rush to actual appreciate you. I envy the people who get to spend more time with you, but I am grateful I could admire your grace (even if you were partially covered in scaffolding and I couldn’t get great photos).

4. The champagne

To be honest, I don’t really think I can go back to a life where champagne isn’t a part of the daily routine. What used to be considered a luxury drink is now something that I will forever hold dear to my heart, something I will wish I could have as regularly as I did here. From the three houses I visited, I learned enough to officially consider myself a champagne snob. There’s no going back now, and I’ll long for the days where it was just a normal necessity to have champagne at school functions.

5. Sherlock’s

Oh Sherlock’s. Never in my life did I think (although I hoped) that I would find a How I Met Your Mother-esque bar where I would know the bartenders, chill out with my friends on the regular, and actually cry in the middle of when I had to say goodbye. You provided me with the most fun Valentine’s Day I’ve had in years, too many free drinks, and pretty solid embarrassing photos of my closest friends. Thanks for trusting me enough to let me DJ on multiple occasions. I’ll be sure to bring my new skills home with me.

6. The Vogue

Given the situations that occurred at the Vogue throughout this semester, one could argue that I should NOT be saying thank you. But here’s the thing, it was through the worst of times that I spent here that made me really appreciate 1) my life 2) my friends 3) the fact that it’s a lot easier to party in America. The awkward photos were plentiful and so were the lessons that I learned. I can’t really say that I will miss you, but when I write my autobiography one day I’m sure you’ll make a cameo.

7. Sciences Po

This is a tough one. There is so much to say, but yet such little ways to say it. While I wasn’t able to complete my bucket list of things to do inside Sciences Po, you still provided me with some really rad times. I’ll never get over the fact that water fountains don’t exist, but scheduled smoke breaks do. And I’ll always laugh at the absurdity of having numerous organizations that plan parties. And in total, complete honesty I’ll always be frustrated that I was “censored” for writing the truth (which made me all the more grateful for my journalism program at Mizzou).

But you changed my perspective on so many issues, on so many things that I was sure were incorrect that I have to say thank you. Thank you for making me do an interview completely in French, for giving us a free champagne tour, for the beautiful courtyard and the two hour lunch breaks. Thank you for learning my name, for inviting me into your community, and for making me realize that small schools can actually be beneficial.

My loyalty will always lie with Mizzou, but you won over a piece of my heart forever. I admire so much of who you are, what you’ve achieved, and how you will grow. The campus of Reims is by far the best, and I’ll proudly rep SciencesPo back home.

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8. The entire city of Reims

This is a big one (for obvious reasons). When I found out in November that I would be going to Reims, my first reaction was “what?” I had never heard of the town, and when I googled it I was a bit disappointed. But boy was I wrong. Reims (as you know from the beginning of this post) is home to me. I mastered its streets (especially Gambetta and des Moulins), become friends with the locals, and created a routine that I would be comfortable living through for the rest of my life. It’s hard to imagine waking up every morning without the ability to walk down your cobbled streets, to get frustrated at the ridiculous hours things were open, or to just look out the window and know I was living in a town of pure beauty.

(Thanks for also letting me drink in your streets).

I’m incredibly jealous of everyone who gets to spend more than 5 months getting to know you better than I did. But I’ll be back soon, I promise.

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9.  Carrefour

You get your own shout out because you are magnificent. You may just be a grocery store, but to an American missing her Targets, Walgreens, and Jewels,  you were a life saver. Thank you for providing me with a great supply of cheese, apple sauce, and 1 euro wine. It is actually kind of depressing when I think about how I went to Carrefour at least 4/7 days each week, but I have no regrets.

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10.  Trips

This is where I’d like to say thanks to Ryanair and the TGV. Your music was incredibly annoying, and I prayed for my life every time I made a trip. But without you two, I would never have gotten to experience all the wonderful places I saw.  (Also s/o to the cab drivers and metros who were utterly confusing, sometimes too expensive, and filled with wild creatures. You challenged me).

Thank you also to all the hostels who provided me with shelter, parties, and new friends. Some of the greatest people and most life changing moments came from my travels to countries other than France. I loved having absolutely no idea where I was going, what language people were speaking, and what adventures were in store for me.

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11.  The language and culture

When I applied for a semester abroad, I dreamed of being fluent in French. The sad truth is, however, that I did not become fluent. My french improved dramatically (seriously), but when you attend a Euro-American campus where everyone speaks fluent English it becomes difficult to adhere to the “strictly French” lifestyle.

Even so, I learned a lot. I was able to really appreciate the French language, its frustrations, and its beauty to a greater extent. Since moving to France, my love for French has only increased and there is no doubt it my mind that 1)it’s the best language in the world and 2) that I made the right choice in choosing to learn it.

I have a long way to go still, but I’m not going to give up. The culture of France is something that is truly admirable, something that has been preserved for years and will continue in its prestige. I also love my own culture and I know that someday I will be able to find the perfect balance between the two.

12. The people

And last, but obviously not least, the people.

Wow. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough. I met the most amazing people from all over the world. You made me have a restored faith in humanity, in our generation, and in the future. There is absolutely no way I would have gotten through this semester or have grown so much had it not been for you.

From the students of SciencesPo, to my professors, to the people I shared hostels with, met at bars, or just the random strangers who told me I was beautiful or helped me with my luggage: thank you.

I know I didn’t always agree with every single thing you did (like wear Abercrombie, make fun of America, make grammar mistakes), but when I look back on it, all of that is irrelevant. I would not be the person I am today writing this had it not been for each and every single one of you. Some of us shared a greater friendship than others, but I can promise you that I am here for you regardless. You are always welcome to visit in Chicago or wherever I happen to be.

A special shout out to my amazing exchange friends, to my fellow Mizzou classmates, to my Mizz N’ the Kids. Every day/night (even 4.22) with you made my life infinitely better. You saw me at all my highs and lows, and still decided to stay by my side. For that, I am eternally thankful. I hope you’re all at my future wedding with embarrassing stories and photos, with laughter and with tears.

And finally, thank you to my family and my professors who believed in me enough to get me to this point in my life. None of this would have been possible without out you, literally.

(oh and a MAJOR s/o to anyone who made it this far in the post. Props to you).

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And that’s it. That’s my last blog post from abroad.

The tears have been shed (and will probably continue to be shed). But I’m returning to the land of Portillo’s and chocolate milk, to the place that educated me, cared for me, and has shown me that my dreams really can come true. To the place where I have the freedom to say what I want, to publish stories that people might think are offensive, to wear short shorts or sweatpants for 30 minutes without being judge.

Because truly, it’s a party in the USA:

2 thoughts on “À Bientôt, France

  1. Mary, I loved reading this post (and your other posts). I’m so glad that you had such a fantastic time studying abroad in France! It is truly a phenomenal, life changing experience to spend a semester abroad. It’s enough time to make you feel like a local where you’re living, but it’s still not enough time to be in France.

    You’ve really gotten me excited to visit Reims when I’m living in France next year. Like you before your semester, I don’t know much about it except that it is the champagne capital but it sounds like you’ve found it to be an absolutely wonderful place. I want to go! I’m jealous of all your champagne drinking too!

    Don’t feel bad about not gaining fluency. I too had the dream that studying abroad in France would finalize my fluency in the language, but I don’t feel fluent. I also felt I improved significantly, especially in comprehension and speaking in a more colloquial fashion but study abroad can be kind of a bubble. There are so many Americans around you, and so many people in France also speak English (especially in Paris!) that it’s hard to get the full immersion.

    I want to hear about blabla cars and Ryanair from you! I’ve been wondering about those options because I never used them when I was abroad for some reason and now that I’m moving back I want to know all my traveling options!

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