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.
When my study abroad program told me in January that there would be an opportunity for students to go on an excursion to Morocco, I was quick to sign up, and I am glad that I did.
For the past five days, my life has revolved around the sun, rather than a clock or a set schedule.
From the moment my plane touched down in Fez, I knew that this experience would be a bizarre, yet worthwhile one. After clearing customs, I found my name on a sheet of crumpled white paper, and followed a man as he sped through the crowded parking lot and directed me to a dark van. I was relieved to find the rest of the Parisian students hidden behind the tinted windows.
The next morning, we explored the old medina of Fez, or the market, which was founded between 789 and 808 AD and is considered to be the largest car-free pedestrian area in the world.
Inside the medina, we visited carpet and spice stores before heading to a tannery, where we learned about the natural production of leather. We were all a little hesitant to walk through the front door, as we were being handed mint leaves and told to "use them like a gas mask." We quickly learned that the substance used to make white leather was none other than pigeon droppings, which, when baking under the Saharan sun, makes for one of the worst smells you could imagine.
We ended our day with a folklore show, where we were entranced by bellydancers, magicians and musicians, all while sipping more of the delicious Berber tea.
Now for the best part: the Sahara Desert.
We boarded a bus early Saturday morning and headed to Merzouga, a small town just on the edge of the Sahara, where we loaded into jeeps and dashed across the orange sand as the sun set behind the dunes. Unfortunately, recent sandstorms made for a mediocre sunset, but we were all very appreciative of the fact that we were watching the sunset in the desert.
We made it to our camp just before the last of the light disappeared from the sky and were greeted by dinner and live music.
After watching the sun rise, we all rushed across camp to find dozens of camels, ready to make their way into the sand dunes. We rode to the highest peak around and climbed to the top, which was no walk in the park, before rolling back down and taking our camels to an oasis where we all jumped into a freezing pool.
We made it back to the campsite before sunset, where we were greeted by local women who spread henna across our arms in intricate patterns and played the bongos with a few of the men who worked at the camp. After the sun set, they showed us one of the best places to stargaze.
Sitting in the sand, only 30km from Algeria, in the complete dark, the stars were breathtaking, even through the residual haze of the sand storms. At one point, someone actually waved their hand in front of my face because I was so fixated on the sky.
We headed back toward civilisation on Monday morning, stopping in the Atlas mountains to meet some of the monkeys that are notorious for playing with tourists. Not wanting to disturb the natural food chain, I instead offered a piece of yarn to one of the monkeys, which was obviously not okay, because the next thing I knew, he was swinging at me.
My time in Morocco will not soon be forgotten, and I hope to go back one day.
One of the best parts about living in Europe for a semi-extended period of time is the ease in which you can jump on a plane and go nearly anywhere for less than $100.
On the other hand, one of the worst parts about living in Europe for a semi-extended period of time is picking a place to go.
As Paris is a large city and is fairly centrally located, it's almost too easy to find a new adventure, which can be dangerous for someone with a tight budget, no matter how inexpensive the trip might be.
I knew coming into my semester in Paris that I would want to travel, so I saved accordingly, and I am so glad I did, because I have been able to visit so many great places and experience different cultures during my time here.
With Ireland, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands under my belt, I have already done my fair share of travel, and I am looking forward to my future expeditions, even if my bank account isn't.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that I am out of control, but I did book a flight to Iceland as I stood in line to board a plane to Amsterdam, so I'm walking a pretty thin line at this point. With less than a month left in Europe, I want to make sure I see as much as I can!
As a group of my friends and I sat on the Trocadero, using Oreos as spoons for a giant jar of peanut butter, we looked around and realised that we were members of the small group of individuals who were living in the moment.
As the sun sets, the Eiffel Tower glistens in a spectacle of lights before thousands of onlookers. For five minutes, she glows brilliantly, a true embodiment of the city's glamour.
We had failed to actually take time to visit the Trocadero, a tourist "must," before that moment, and we were disheartened to see an ocean of phones.
There were people who walked up, took a few photos, and left without ever actually letting their eyes settle on the stage before them, past the small screen of their phone.
The last of the daylight slipped from the air and the tower launched into her dazzling display as we watched on, indulging in the moment.
Now having lived in Paris for several weeks, I have started to realise how distracted and vain we are as a population.
Walking through areas that are ladened with tourists is nearly impossible, as everyone is more focused on taking a photo of themselves in front of the area, instead of taking the opportunity to marvel at the story of the place.
It goes to show that we are more obsessed with sharing our experiences than having an authentic experience, and I am trying to step away from living through a screen and live in the moments before me.
When one lives in France, a visit to the Loire Valley is a must-see.
The Loire Valley, settled in central France, stretches for nearly 200 miles along the Loire River. The area is known for its historic towns, wine and more than 300 castles (or "châteaux").
Early Saturday morning, the students in my program loaded into a bus headed for the Loire. The first castle we visited, Château de Chambord, was the inspiration for the castle in Beauty and the Beast.
The château features 365 fireplaces, a double-helix staircase, 426 rooms and a stable built to hold 1500 horses. And I thought my family's five-bedroom Parisian apartment was extravagant...
The second castle we visited was Château de Chenonceau, which is my favorite of all of the castles I have visited in France.
Constructed with smooth white stone and surrounded by a deep moat, Chenonceau looks like the classic Disney castle. The great hall, which extends over the Loire River from the back of the château, is entirely white and black marble, and absolutely stunning.
The last castle that we visited was Ambiose, which is where the tomb of Leonardo DiVinci is located. The château itself sits high above the surrounding town, overlooking the Loire River.
It was fun to be able to wander the giant castles, considering they're hundreds of years older than the United States and all have their own stories of invasion, adultery and luxury.
Wherever you go and whatever you do, may the luck of the Irish be there with you.
Before I left home, my cousin handed me a hundred dollar bill and said, "You better go somewhere with that."
As luck would have it, my friend, Anna, lives in Dublin and had invited me to come spend St. Patrick's Day with her and her family.
From the moment my plane landed, I felt at home in Ireland.
Entirely different than those of Paris, the streets of Dublin were filled with kind strangers and cheerful voices. Several times, strangers approached me to ask what part of Ireland I was from and were quick to buy me a Guinness when I revealed that I was American.
Exploring Dublin with Anna was interesting because I was able to meet locals and visit parts of the city that I wouldn't have otherwise. I quickly learned that the Irish do not stray away from striking up conversation with the strangers sitting next to them at the bar, and I met some great people.
We also went to a charity rugby match between retired Irish and English players. Never having watched the sport before, I was excited to be in a rowdy crowd that, as Anna's mom described them, were there for the beer and the chance to boo England more than anything else.
I've already booked another trip to Ireland in May, and I am excited to see some of the western coast!
It was around 2 a.m. in Bruges, Belgium, when one student wobbled over to me, a coin in her hand, which she held out in front of her, and said, "Put this penny in your shoe and you'll have good luck."
The 'lucky penny' seems to have cast the opposite effect on my life.
After an early-morning Uber charge to my debit card last weekend, my bank blocked my card, which I had the pleasure of discovering as I attempted to pay for lunch at a nearby café.
After begging my friends for cash for a few days, I was finally able to contact my bank and get everything figured out, only to get a call from home a week later, letting me know that my bank is closing, rendering the same card useless.
With a new card on its way to Europe, I packed my bags for a weekend excursion to Belgium with my program.
Filled with chocolate, waffles and history (and beer, sorry), the trip was far too short.
Continuing my streak of good fortune, my phone stopped working. As I am headed to Dublin for Saint Patrick's Day on Wednesday, I hurried into a nearby Apple store for help, where I was fortunate to get everything sorted out, but I lost everything on my device.
As I am not one to let life get me down, I'm looking forward to what the rest of the week holds, and I am excited to explore Ireland!