Exactly one year ago, the best adventure of my life began. Nervous and excited, I hopped on a plane and began my 9-month journey through France and India. I knew what I was getting into, and I had no idea what I was getting into.
As I have said before, study abroad was some of the most challenging, exhilarating, frustrating, unforgettable and wonderful experiences of my life.
Simply, life changing.
It’s hard to believe that I experienced so much in a short amount of time and even harder to believe that my big adventure has already ended, but it didn’t take me long to realize that my experiences follow me wherever I go.
So, looking back:
some of the best moments: relaxing with the sunset on the beach in Cannes, the view from the Tour Eiffel at night, carrying everything I need on my back, riding camels in Rajasthan to start 2011, watching “Friends” with my India roommates, the incredibly awesome accomplishment of speaking (relatively) fluently with native French speakers, successfully taking control in a Kolkata taxi cab, hiking through the Cinque Terre, listening to “Cecilia” in Atif’s car, tequila shots at Stations, birthday beignets in Paris in the Jardin du Luxembourg, seeing wild elephants, teaching Vinayak how to play cards, getting mehndi, L’Elixir performance, ladies night at Roxy/Tantra, dinner with the Soutouls, finding Kate miraculously in the London tube, markets in France, shopping for local handicrafts in villages, biking through villages in North Bengal, relaxing on the houseboat in Kerala, and SO MUCH more. I am so blessed to have had such awesome experiences, now turned to fond memories.
some of the more difficult moments: arriving in Delhi after 30+ hours of travel with no one to greet me, almost getting stranded in Italy, very expensive France on a limited budget, my second flight to Paris being canceled (aka the Easy Jet fiasco), the absolutely miserable very sick trip to Agra/Taj Mahal, being sick without the comforts of home, worrying about my safety, missing Karl and friends and family, missing out on events around campus, beggar children in absolute poverty fighting over the apple I gave them, rerouted from London City to Stansted, looking up flights home when I was miserably sick in the beginning of India, leaving the day after Christmas after only 2 weeks with my loved ones, a beggar child digging through the trash in front of me, adjusting to culture shock, language barriers, blizzard delays on my way home from France, mice and cockroaches in my bedroom/bathroom…and more. I am blessed to have these difficult times as well, because these are the experiences where I had to dig deep and find the strength in myself to make it through. I often learned more in hindsight from the difficult times.
Throughout the good times and the bad, it was the people I met and spent time with who shaped my experiences the most: my entire France group with all our different personalities and love/hate relationships, Leah (who I spent almost every adventure in France with), Liz (ain’t gon’ kill me!), Alejandra (“I’m so glad you’re here!”), Mickey (many good times and heart-to-hearts…teabag, OH!), Laura Regina Shawn Andrew and Evans, all the AIFS “the other Americans” (Ryan, Miriam, Cassie, Mary, Megan, Lara, Laura, Mary Jo, Reyshma, and more!), Patrick, Jean-Claude, Sylvie, Franck Souad Sarah et Eva Soutoul, the other CIC students, Beth (our wonderful France director, who even came to save us from being stranded in Italy!), Julie (ma camarade de chambre), Madhu (the most amazing director – India would not have been a success without her!), Munu (I love your laughter and smiles!), Arundhati (the best mother away from home), Sujoy (my host father and seemingly human encyclopedia, guiding us through all our questions), Vinayak (my wonderful studious cricketer host brother), my AMAZING roommates Elizabeth Brynn and Ashley, the rest of my couldn’t-have-asked-for-a-better-group India group (Danny Michael Jennifer Kathryn (Kefrin!) Bekkah Kia Haley Abbey), Haroon Atif and Adil (so thankful for your friendship!), Bhaswati (I will always remember Holi with you and Raka!), Satakshi, Riddhima, SXC staff (Sweta, M.S., S.B., Rajib) and all the other host parents (Antarin, Shyamali, Ranjit, Jaba Auntie, Ashok Uncle, Kakima, Kaku, Rashmi, Shantanu). Everyone mentioned here impacted my journey and helped me along the way, and I cannot thank you enough for the good times, the encouragement, and the guidance.
So what did I learn through this travel? As I chose the quote above – “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” – I hoped I would find it to be true. And I did. I learned so much about my place in the world, the diversity and richness of other cultures, the sheer joy (and difficulty) of experiencing a different way of life, and so much more that it is difficult to put words to this kind of growth. Even better, it’s the kind of growth that encourages more – more adventures, more exploring, more learning. Whatever I learned in those 9 months will not stay fixed pieces of knowledge…more will reveal itself as time goes on. And as much as I learned about my host cultures, the biggest things I learned were about myself. My willpower, my strengths, my faults, my fears, my biases, my judgments, my awesome-ness, and more. This journey made me into who I am today, and sometimes I feel who I am today is completely different from the person I was before I left. I am forever changed, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Moving forward: I will never forget my experiences abroad. India and France and everything in between follow me wherever I go. As sad and nostalgic as this one-year-anniversary-of-my-trip-starting feeling is, I am thankful for what lies ahead. I’m embracing the smaller adventures of every day life and I am so excited for the joys ahead: reconnecting with friends on campus, beginning my final year of college, having a BLAST at my last year at CSB/SJU, graduating, marrying the love of my life and starting our life together in marital bliss!
And so, the journey continues.