I learned about culture shock long ago and far away, and I have experienced it several times, but with each experience, I learn something new about myself and my own reality.
I was excited to come home from my time abroad, mainly because I missed my dog, but I was also sad to leave what had come to be my life in Paris. I developed a rhythm, I knew the people on my street, and I could sniff out the better bakeries. Suddenly, however, I was thrown back into my life at home, and it was different.
The time change meant that I couldn't keep my eyes open past 10 P.M. and woke me up at 4 A.M.. I was grouchy and I missed my friends that were still in Paris.
I discovered that I had become a bread snob. My mom, the kind and caring woman that she is, had stopped at my favorite 'French' bakery in Des Moines and brought me home a baguette, and I found myself grimacing as the soft bread rolled across my tongue.
"Holy shit, I am one of those people," I thought to myself. My mom laughed at me across the table as she recognized that I was attempting to hide my disgust.
It is also strange not to be surrounded by the beautiful buildings of Paris. One of the first things I fell in love with about the city became mundane, but I find myself searching for the same smooth, white stone and wrought iron balconies.
It's also been difficult to transition back into using English. In Paris, I was navigating, reading, speaking and learning in French, so it's strange to go through each day without it. I have been trying to use it as much as I can, because I can already feel my skills slipping away.
I also miss being able to pick up and jet off to different countries, but stay tuned, because my next adventure is coming shortly.
After a short layover in Reykjavik when I flew to France in high school, I was desperate to return and actually make it out of the airport.
I decided that, with one last weekend to play before my time in Europe expired, I would fulfil an old dream and explore a country filled with snow, ice, volcanos, rocks, waterfalls, geysers and geothermal pools. And it didn't disappoint.
My plane landed just before midnight on Thursday as the sun dipped below the horizon. I woke up just before the plane dipped below the clouds and let out an audible gasp when I saw a bright red sky, ablaze with the last of the day's dying light.
We drove along curving roads in what had become pure darkness, lost and convinced we would never find our AirBnB, but alas, hidden behind a campground whose name I will never be able to remember or pronounce, our small cabin sat waiting for us.
As all college-aged women would be, the four of us were thrilled to see that our cabin came with bunkbeds and we quickly dove into beds, claiming our spots for the weekend.
We woke up early Friday morning and went to a beach down the road that ran parallel to a quaint church and cemetery before driving into Reykjavik to explore the city, which was whimsical and welcoming. As suggested to us by virtually all of our friends who had previously visited the city, we tried Icelandic hot dogs, which were served with dozens of toppings that came together in what was the best hot dog I've ever had. Thanks for the tip, friends!
Because we are all college students who are nearing the end of a semester abroad, we are virtually penniless, so we made pasta at the campground and watched the sun set over dozens of tents and RVs that surrounded our cabin and duck behind the mountain range.
With only two full days in Iceland, we chose to travel the Golden Circle, which is a route in the Southern part of the country that features many impressive physical features, including glaciers, waterfalls, beaches, hot pools and geysers. By the end of the day, we'd climbed, stumbled and cursed our way through the trails and down the valleys, and we were exhausted. When we got to the last stop of the day and realised that the "45 minute walk" actually meant "two day hike up the side of a mountain," a unanimous "hell no" sent us speeding off in the opposite direction, headed home for more pasta.
It was a short trip, but it was filled with beautiful landscapes and left us in a state of awe countless times.
To the people, places and experiences that have changed my entire existence in the past four months: thank you.
When I boarded my flight in February, I was excited. I was apprehensive. Quite frankly, I was terrified.
The first week or so was exhausting. I wanted to see everything and meet everyone, yet I came out of it worried that I would never make friends in Paris. Little did I know, I would meet so many amazing, with whom I would travel across Europe, eat countless pastries and drink too much coffee.
I worried that I wouldn't learn the language. Because the other students in my program were at varying levels of French, virtually all of the first week was in English, and I started to panic.
But, suddenly, I found that I was surrounded by these individuals who were going through the exact same things as me. These people came to be like my Parisian family.
The thing about making friends abroad is that you are forced to spend a lot of time together. You get on each others nerves and then you have to find a way to get past it because you have no other choice. You travel with these people, you live with these people and you study with these people. They are your circle.
We found our niches and we began to adapt to our new home.
French started to come more naturally. Once one of my friends started reading Harry Potter in French, a chain reaction was caused because using the language no longer seemed to be a power move. By the next week, most of my friends had found a copy of their favorite books in French and spent their time in the metro quickly flipping through pages that contained familiar stories, pushing themselves to better their French.
We dove into new places and cultures, trying to make a small splash, yet totally immersing ourselves.
We often failed.
We laughed with strangers, we drank the water in Morocco, we were mocked in countless tongues, we found our way on public transportation, and we drank too many pints in Galway. All along the way, we were growing.
Sitting in the Charles de Gaulle Airport, my mind is reeling with memories, and I'm utterly amazed at how quickly my time abroad has expired.
For anyone who is considering a study abroad program, do it. Ignore credit hours, save some money and book a ticket, because it will surely be one of the most challenging times of your young life, but it will also be one of the most amazing.
To the people who encouraged me to go abroad and to continue to take French classes: a special thanks to you, especially Madame Cramer for igniting my interest in the language and culture from a young age.
After a whirlwind ten days split between traveling the Netherlands and Morocco, getting back into my classes proved to be more difficult than I had expected.
When I walked into class on Wednesday, flaunting a few new freckles and a henna tattoo, I was feeling pretty damn good about myself. Then the professor started passing out the midterm exam, which I thought wasn't for another week.
Luckily, based on the reactions of several other students, I wasn't the only one who was entirely unprepared.
As someone who takes her studies seriously, I had to kick myself for slipping up, especially since French courses rely heavily on very few graded assignments and exams, but since I had been doing so much traveling, and I was prepping for a trip to Ireland the following day, I can see where I might have missed it.
When it comes down to it, I'm glad I forgot about the test, because I would have otherwise spent time worrying about studying while I was exploring during Easter break.
It's hard to believe how fast time has gone since I moved to Paris at the beginning of February. In less than two weeks, I will be attempting to pack all of my relics and clothes into my suitcase, and I'll be headed back to Iowa.