Monday, May 16, 2011

Final Thoughts

I've been back for about two weeks now! I think I've rather thoroughly broken down my personal response to the whole experience in my head, and a lot of it is mixed in with the multitude of issues unrelated to France that I experienced while I was there. My conclusion is that I wouldn't change my experience for the world. A lot of it I let be defined by something that, well, defined my time there. I can't believe I can say this, but in France, I fell in love for the first time with another human being. Not long thereafter, I began to realize, as so many do, that life's circumstances didn't want to let it last.

A lot like that relationship, my time in France was something I am proud and happy to say I experienced, but it is also something of the past now. There are a thousand memories I'll cherish forever from those months in France, from those months in love, and unfortunately in some ways I'll also harbor a lot of bitterness from both of those experiences. I have changed so much since last summer, in some dark ways, in some beautiful ways, and in a lot of grown-up ways. I never expected that I would change this much or to this extent when I set out on the seven-month journey abroad.

I forged some very important friendships while I was in France. I will forever cherish M, F, P, N, and C and her family. These people saved my life when I was alone, made me laugh, saved my heart when it was breaking, and were such important parts of my life during those months - I'm tearing up right now thinking just how much they all meant to me. There are a small set of individuals who also helped me immensely in small ways, even if they maybe changed their feelings about it later. L turned out to dislike me, but in the beginning she generously offered me a place to stay when everything was foreign. F.G. took me in when L changed her mind. There was F's boyfriend, who listened to my problems right alongside F when I was hurting and confused. The kind woman who drove me home from the train station. Nakayasu-san, who entertained a couple of jaded foreigners and brightened our day several times. L.P. turned out wrong, but he introduced me to an amazing open-mic bar. All the people, from the hotel concierge to the vacationing Polish family, to my students, who let two weird Americans record them speaking their native languages. My two Japanese teachers, for being so helpful and patient and just for doing what they do.

My final week in France was a calm one. After finishing my April vacation in Strasbourg with F and her boyfriend, I said goodbye to my classes, snuck in one final set of medical appointments before returning to the first world's worst healthcare system, saw a movie with C about families, ate well, received a few very kind gifts, packed my bags and left. It was truly time to leave, just as it was when I graduated from NYU. I didn't sense, as I was leaving, that I was heading toward even more life challenges - think quarter-life crisis and unemployment - but it was definitely the right way for things to go.

I'm doing as best I can right now from back at home - planning, healing, processing. I'm considering the possibility of going abroad again next year to teach English in Japan, if the devastation there hasn't eliminated the need for teachers... Because I want a second chance before real life starts. I want to see the world, but I don't care exactly how much of it I see. It's more important to me to get to know a place, to find new friends in strange places, to connect and to see, than to simply glance and run around to the most touristic locations.

In that sense, the last seven months were an amazing success. Thank you for following me as it happened. Your lives are just as blessed as mine - probably more so, since I have had such strange combinations of good and BAD luck! Here are some of my pictures from the final stages of my trip.

The parking lot/bus stop at the train station in my tiny town. :)

Heading home beside the train tracks - Step 1!

After the straightaway (about 5 min), turning to face Step 2: the forest!

After passing the residential area and this long stretch of tree-bordered street, I would have been walking about 12 minutes. Notice the gradual upward ascent!

Ascent gets a lot steeper as I take 4 minutes to walk STRAIGHT UPHILL through a roughly paved shortcut.

Hopefully you get the idea of how steep this is.

Finally reached the top! Yup, pretty steep.

The view back down toward where I just came from!

Dilapidated, abandoned truck that kind of scared me when I'd walk this route at night...

"Grr... another uphill shortcut..."

...freedom up ahead! By now about 20 minutes have passed and I am breathing pretty hard.

Finally made it to level ground! Another 5 or so minutes and I would be home. :) (Excuse my weird neck tendons)

Strasbourg TGV (high-speed train) station.

Nature alongside the river.

Cool old building in the city center! As usual, don't know what it is, but there is a restaurant underneath, naturally.

The famous, asymettric cathedral

One thing Strasbourg is known for: gingerbread.

In the Petite France neighborhood

Very cute old buildings in Petite France.

F and me

Stork at the Orangerie!

F, her friend, and me near the European Parliament buildings

Posing with the Strasbourg tram in the background

Fancy ballroom in one of the city museums

Library in the same musem

Excuse my face! Two of my favorite students

The other favorites!

My wonderful host family