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An Afterword

So, it’s been a while since I’ve been back home. After weeks of waiting, some serious trouble accessing cash, and about 7 flights across Europe in two weeks, I’ve survived “study abroad.” Here’s to that!

A picture from Berlin, at the Gendarmenmarkt (a very nice Christmas market)!

My last few weeks were a lesson in stress-management. After having all my assignments due, I suddenly had to also manage all of my friends leaving at different times, and trying to say goodbye to each of them, while also finishing all of my goodbye-Europe travel plans (I only went to Rome, Berlin, and Prague…. did you know that I studied abroad in Euuuroooope?). Add on any logistical mishap, phone malfunction, or even slight delay in catching the 83 bus line, and I started to get very homesick. I missed Northwestern, I missed my classes, and I missed my friends. To me, I was about to return and continue the work that was already 6 quarters and 2 summers in progress – study abroad felt like a bit too much of an aberration, knowing that I was soon to return to one and a half more years of that same Northwestern environment.

And of course, since I’m nothing if not predictable, now I’m missing the hell out of Paris. I started writing this post during Week 3 of Winter Quarter classes, so I’ve mostly had my chance to answer everyone’s greetings of “Hello!! How was it over there?”, and each time I’ve responded, I’ve missed Paris a little more. There’s elements of my life that just aren’t the same – the crêpes are gone, it’s harder to leave my campus to go and meet friends, my weekends are less filled with new sights, and I’m meeting fewer people. On top of it all, I’ve lost the constant challenge of navigating and reflecting on difference – of trying to make sense out of a different culture’s daily life and experience that is so different from mine.

(Addendum: yes, even though I was studying in Western Europe, French society is still different. And if anything, its proximity to American culture makes the small differences, be it in education structure, in civic participation, conceptions of politeness, or social order, so much more interesting).

The more time I spend away, the more I realize that I also miss the beauty of Paris. It’s hard to describe Paris in a way that hasn’t already been said, written, sung, or played, but man, the city is beautiful. It’s uniform, in a way that’s frustrating at first. You can never really know where you are, since every set of buildings looks the same – short, with old windows, a gray-yellow colour, and a probably-really-old entrance door always equipped with a stark blue number sign. But that uniformity is also so striking. From any vantage point, Paris seems to simply sprawl itself out to the horizon. Its erratic street pattern adds texture to the city. It’s a place for getting lost, where you can just wonder upon a restaurant-studded main street (Rue Oberkampf) or yet another museum related to a 19th century novelist (the Maison de Victor Hugo by the Place des Vosges).

Paris is now a memory, and that’s a very very hard statement to reconcile. I’m not in any way dissatisfied: I know I learned a lot, and I know I grew exponentially as an independent, young, adult. There’s a distinct happiness and lightness in my daily life that I felt, where now I feel a (perhaps much more American) need for “work” and “goals.” But that stress does get a little sweeter every time I think of the wonderful people, places, and memories contained within that 4-month memory bubble.

Nonetheless, I’m so happy to have gone. The next question is when I go back. And, for how long…

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