Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Home" But Not Home

     Wow, so this is what it's like to be back from exchange: the constant pang of homesickness for foods, customs and people that were once so foreign but are now so normal, the readjustment to habits that were different for a year, and the text messages going the opposite direction. Suddenly, again, I realize it's all just a dream. I always read about other students returning from exchange, but I never thought I'd be in their shoes so soon. Here I am, not the "American exchange student" anymore, but the "American who was an exchange student."

      I'll never forget the day I left my French hometown. It was one of the worst days of my life yet also one of the most beautiful. The people who were just strangers months ago started catching my teardrops on their shoulders when I heard that the train would be coming in fifteen minutes. I had never cried so much before in public, but this time I didn't care that I was the star of the show, even if I didn't want nor expect to perform it. I gave kisses and hugs to my four best friends, my host sisters, my host mom, and then I reluctantly hopped onto the train. My last view of France, at least my France, was my host dad's hand that I tried to grasp in order to at least say some sort of goodbye before the train doors closed, my host parents' hug as they both broke down, and my friends shout of  "Au Revoir!" and my French nickname "Jaja!" as they waved with their beautiful, love filled smiles. How fortunate am I to have something, or "somebodies", in this case, that was and is so hard to say goodbye to.

     Arriving at the airport, I realized that my parents weren't there. We were reunited after an hour, but it felt so weird. The first days were very hard in general. I was sleep deprived, yet I still woke up at weird hours and texted my rays of sunshine that were now 4,000 miles away. I was in one of my favorite cities in the world, but my parents didn't understand that I just wanted to sleep and be reunited with everybody, even if I wasn't sure of who "everybody" referred to. The people who were supposed to know me the best didn't understand. American food was tasteless compared to France, the showers were different, and the streets were more decorated with flags, USA flags. Everything I said, did, and saw reminded me of France, and it is still like that today.

    Reuniting with everyone in Pennsylvania was the best part about coming back. To sit down and tell them about it, to literally run into somebody's arms, to hear the words "I missed you, to sit my little cousin on my lap... it was almost magical. I never knew I made such a big difference in people's lives until my year abroad,  and at the same time I realized what a difference they made in mine.

A day at the lake with the cousins!!!

     "It was the best year of my life." I kept it simple after the first few weeks were over. I didn't feel like explaining my year abroad to everyone on the street, and I honestly didn't know what to say when someone asked "How was France?" The US teenager pressures of learning to drive, getting a job on the side, doing sports in school, and all the other things I usually didn't see so present in my French friend's live came directly to me, and I didn't like it. The reunions died down slowly, as they were turning once again towards goodbyes.

     About a week ago, I arrived at my aunt and uncle's house in Indiana, where I will spend my senior year of high school. It's like living an AFS year all over again, except for the fact that they are biologically related to me and they speak English. It's hard because I now have to adapt all over again. I also said a complicated goodbye to Pennsylvania without being able to enjoy my time there because I was missing France. I am confident though because I've done done this "adaptation thing" before in much more complicated circumstances (and look at how that ended), and I'm confident about the choice I made to move.

     As hard as some days are, I push myself through, just as I did in France when it was tough. I know my host parents wouldn't want anything else but that, and they've prepared me well for it all. It will never be the same for me because I'll never have my whole family on one continent again at the same time, but maybe it doesn't have to be the same.

139 days until I see my French parents again!!!



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