My hair was wet when I left the house today. The crisp autumn air quickly rolled around my neck, today absent of a scarf, and down my spine. We had our first snow. Not the dangerously cold kind where the world is left in a horizontal blur, but the tentative, powder kind that rests for only a few minutes before disappearing almost as quickly as it came. It seems as if I’m constantly chasing after time that slips beyond me. It was a grounding reminder that today, I am here.
Colby’s Global Entry Semester program is exhilarating and intense. It’s beauty has been far beyond anything I could have imagined before my arrival. Each day, as I get off the bus at Place Darcy and work my way into Centre-Ville, I am confronted with structures whose history far surpasses that of our nation alone. Here, it’s easy to walk into a modern pharmacy that sits just inside a half-timbered building. I am greeted by the members of my host family, who are among the kindest, most amiable, sincere, and passionate people that I have ever gotten the privilege to know. Everyday in this home I am humbled by their generosity and graciousness. In class, though we all come with varying levels of language and comfort, our professors have made valiant and bright efforts to share their culture with us. We spend days wandering the city to uncover its art and architecture with Serge, and every Wednesday, despite sometimes difficult-to-follow lectures, Jacques makes sure to end class with tea, nutella, and cake.
However, this program is undoubtedly difficult. Intrinsically, language immersion provides a number of obstacles. When I first arrived here, though I loved discovering each new idiom and custom, I felt like I had lost so much of myself. Everything that I had known to be true of my personality, my outspokenness, my confidence in my beliefs, my drive, all felt ripped from me. Now, I see that fundamentally I am still all of those things, but I’ve also evolved to be a better listener, more patient, and a more empathetic friend. We make mistakes often here, but are also given the chance to celebrate the little things: using the upstairs bathroom, giving directions to Monoprix, Natalie’s host family serving a food she genuinely enjoys. I hope now to continue seeing those victories in the small things, and stand still with gratitude.
It’s strange knowing that so little time here remains, and also bittersweet. There are still infinite possibilities. I had been having a rather difficult week and I think much of that had been in anticipation of my departure. I think when we’re all having bad moments here, it’s easy to assume that if we were at home, things would be better. This idea of our American normalcy always seems to permeate into our conversations. However, recently I’ve begun to feel so settled in Dijon. There is a routine, a pace, a lifestyle, and a family in which I am now living in and with. I see the same strangers on the L5, listen to musicians play similar sets on the Rue de la Liberté just by the Galeries Lafayette, and watch the same MyWok employee follow my fingers with his eyes as I point and order my usual noodle bowl with all the works. Hadley and I sip on cappuccinos while Heather orders a water, Jon emerges from a soft-spoken lecture with a witty comment that makes us all giggle, Ben and Theo are late to CIEF, and I realize that this, this crazy, exhilarating, beautiful life, is my normalcy.
I am scared to go home. It is terrifying to return to a place that has always maintained such procedure in your life, knowing fully that you are not the same person as you were when you left and that inherently, you will be forced to interact with it differently. I fear reverse culture shock, knowing even when I visited Amsterdam, which essentially feels like an Anglophone city, just for a weekend, I was overwhelmed and uncomfortable. The notion that people could understand me felt anything but safe, invasive almost. And I know that these anxieties will pass in time, but now it feels as if my mishaps and mistakes are for gain. They are an imperative part of the everyday adventure of living abroad.
It’s still some days totally unfathomable to think about how I ended up here. Yet, in the end, I know that it was all just me. My choices, my actions, and my courage brought me to this place. I think now there is a complexity to leaving because it’s like abandoning the first home and life that I have made for myself. While the Catskills are my roots, Dijon has been the place where I have taken some of the first steps into my independent, adult life. It’s a place that my adolescence can’t touch or see; it’s unaffected. So as I prepare for these final days, I hope to continue establishing that autonomy and lose my expectations of what all will be like to follow. There is still so much left to learn, I just have to allow myself to get there.