Sunday, September 1, 2013
it’s funny how time works.. one second, you’re a freshman in college ; another moment, you’re leaving for a semester abroad ; one more, and you’ve been back for two years and just graduated. it would take a novel for me to honestly express how the last two years of my life have gone, but here’s the short version of how i came to be where i am.
when i came home from europe on july 13th, 2011, i was elated to be back with my loved ones. i had a joyful reunion with my parents, sister, and dog (he was probably the most excited). i finally got to actually be in a relationship with my boyfriend – we’d been apart for almost 7 of the 9 months we’d been dating at the time. i had stories upon stories to tell, and the world seemed so big and full of opportunities.
i started school that fall without really knowing how i’d react. my time abroad had an indescribable effect on me, and i already felt that i’d miss it desperately. however, i was excited to see my friends and professors and to get back into the swing of american university life. classes started in august, i mysteriously decided to join the new sorority on campus (an entirely different story), and the days passed quickly. but as september waned, things started to get tough.
if i could go back and have a conversation with myself during the months before my departure, i would say this: culture shock is hard, but re-culture shock is exponentially worse. i had been warned about the challenges of culture shock – the initial elation, the inevitable slump of homesickness and frustration, and the eventual balancing act that becomes everyday life as an expat. i went through all of those phases when i got to france – excitement for the first few weeks, a couple tough adjustment weeks, and then several months of relative normalcy. however, coming back home proved much more difficult… the timeline of my re-culture shock dragged on and on. the elation lasted long enough to fool me into thinking i would have no problems readjusting. but after two months, the sweetness of being home gave way to the bitter reality of having no dreams left.
i know how melodramatic that sounds, but it’s the honest truth. i had been dreaming of living in france for what seems like forever. i had spent my entire life, or at least what i could consciously remember of it, striving for that goal. i have had a passion for all things french since i was a little girl – it started with beauty and the beast, but it translated into me starting my french education at age 12, landing a job at the public library at age 15, continuing my librarian career until i graduated college, traveling to france multiple times on school trips and vacations… i even got a fleur-de-lis tattoo when i was 18. all that to say, it was my life’s dream. and i accomplished it! i am so blessed – some people never even come close to achieving their dreams that way. but i am a goal-oriented human; i need something to work towards, or i lose my focus, my drive. so, in september, when it finally hit me that my purpose was no longer there, i panicked. i had a genuine quarter-life crisis. i questioned everything, even my desire to stay in school. and coming from a grade-A nerd, that was a big deal. there are a few people in my life to whom i am forever indebted for carrying me through that semester. but at the end of it, as 2011 was drawing to a close, i finally settled down enough to take stock of my life and my priorities. i decided that, as crazy as 2011 had been – highest highs and lowest lows – i was going to take a deep breath and let it go.
2012 was going to be a new year and i needed to find my balance again. i took a couple classes that changed my life – particularly, i had a world literature class that focused on exilic literature, addressing questions about home, exile, and memory. that course was a god-send; it was therapy. i had time to endlessly reflect about what was happening in my heart, and through our readings and papers, i had time to heal a little bit.
at that point, i still wasn’t thinking far enough in the future to know when i would get back to france. i knew i had to go back, but i couldn’t tell what that trip would be – a permanent move? a couple weeks of backpacking? it wasn’t until the summer that the wheels of fate got turning again. change has always been something that unnerves me – suddenly, plans become irrelevant, and i do love a good plan. but when it became clear last summer that my plans were not the ones that mattered, i stopped trying to be in control.
on a whim, i decided that i might as well apply for the fulbright teaching assistantship in france. what could it hurt? i went through the application process, wrote my personal statement and statement of purpose, sent it off in mid-october, and settled in to wait. around january, i got the email saying i’d been recommended by the fulbright commission for the teaching assistant program in france (henceforth, TAPIF). this program is basically the french ministry of education’s version of the fulbright – english speakers from all over the world go to france to act as supplementary teachers for underprivileged school throughout the country. getting a recommendation from the fulbright commission is a big deal, because it pushes your name to the top of the applicant list. so, i applied for that in mid-january and waited some more. finally, on april 2nd, i got the email that i’d been accepted. i was in target with my best friend, and got a call from my mom, telling me to check my emails. i read the message on her phone, and started crying right there in the clothing section. i was going back to france!!!
that’s basically the rough outline of how i came to be where i am right now. as this post has grown long enough, i’ll cut myself off and write a separate one about the TAPIF program and my placement details. suffice to say, i am beyond excited and anxious about this next chapter, and i am endlessly grateful for the experiences that brought me to this moment. i had such a strong feeling when i came home two years ago that my time in france wasn’t over… and i was right. cheers to that!