I write today with a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. The past several weeks have been especially intense and unsettling. After writing my last post, I had difficult meetings with administrators at BU about the institutional issues of racism, only to then be thrust into finals and, now, the coronavirus hysteria. I am supposed to begin the internship phase of my program next week, working full-time at a contemporary art gallery in the Marais. At this point, however, it remains unclear how much longer I will remain abroad. My program has made our stay in Paris optional, several students have decided to go home, and it is highly likely that the program will be cancelled entirely in the next week or two. BU has already sent students home from all countries designated Level 3 by the CDC, and will (almost definitively) do the same when France inevitably reaches that definition. Almost all abroad programs in Italy, China, and South Korea have been suspended at this point, and I know of several programs in Paris that have repatriated students in advance of any official travel designations. I have spent much of this spring break communicating with administrators, my family, and my friends about my options. So this is an end of some sort; whether it’s the anticipated end of my courses or the unexpected departure is still unclear.
I am not someone who yields well to things out of my control. I seem to constantly be tying up my life with little ribbons of expectations. There are so many things I’ve invested myself in: the French language, Parisian explorations, tickets to travel with a dear friend after the end of the semester. Admittedly, as a young, healthy, able-bodied person, I am not particularly worried about contracting coronavirus myself. I believe that a lot of the media coverage has become a weaponized excuse for xenophobia and I know that these abroad programs are avoiding liability. That said, I also understand the risk this virus poses to others and the legitimate anxiety this would bring to those in poor health or those without the same accessibility to healthcare. I am constantly toying between finding the public reaction completely absurd and also completely necessary. The unique structure of my program also means that no matter what happens, I will definitively receive at least 12 credits for the semester with the three classes I just completed in the first half of my program. Knowing that my academic career/graduation date won’t be jeopardized by a return home is something I’m enormously grateful for. Either way, I am anxious for someone else to make a decision about my stay, so that I don’t have to have the responsibility to make one that I’ll regret.
So if this is not just an end, but THE end, I have to let myself reflect on the 10 weeks that I’ve had in France. I have met wonderful people that I can genuinely imagine lifelong friendships with through BU, a privilege I did not necessarily expect. I have had free access to countless museums and cultural institutions like the Musée d’Orsay, l’Institut du Monde Arabe, Musée Picasso, and Musée du Chocolat. I have cried over the subjonctif. I have found incredible cardamom buns. I have had the enormous privilege to travel a handful of times and visit some of the people I adore most in the world in places that they are now calling home. I have learned how much I like yogurt. I have also learned how little I like Châtelet. I have befriended the woman who works at the panini shop next to the BU center. I have sent passive-agressive WhatsApp messages to students in my shared kitchen to return the silverware. I have been angry at the country that once made me feel so welcome. I have realized how much more connected I am to the one I am from.
Abroad is about discomfort. It is about wishing and wanting for things you can never have, and receiving those you never knew you needed. My return to France, from paysage to Paris, has been very different from what I expected. It’s come with a lot more anger and frustration than I ever imagined. It’s also made me realize how much I value Colby; I think about how easy it was to leave my hometown for Dijon, and how hard it was to leave school for Paris. Last year, I never could have imagined how important Colby would feel to me. I am beginning to feel that perhaps this was what my abroad experience needed to be about: exercising gratitude. So whatever comes at me, whether it’s stateside or not, I’ll try to embrace it without too much hesitation. I don’t need to have any expectations be met to gain anything from my experience.