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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A three week layover in Pittsburgh

Home at last. In Paris, I did exactly what I wanted—I relaxed in a garden between the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre for a few hours. Then, upon returning home, I went straight to CMU to watch my friends graduate and say goodbye to those leaving Pittsburgh. Now, four days after landing in Pittsburgh, I can finally make myself a cup of tea, sit on my porch, and finish the story of my semester.

Last fall, as part of a scholarship application, I made a list of goals that I wanted to achieve while abroad. Had my academic advisor not pointed me to this opportunity, I probably never would have made this list—and as I sit here, I’m thankful to have some insight into my thoughts prior to last January.  

A few of my goals and their outcomes:

1.     To learn French to a level that will allow me to live and work in French-speaking countries comfortably beyond the conclusion of this program.

Victory for Cecily  : )  When I return to France (without an English-speaking university as home base), I will survive. Yes, I will struggle, but I will be ok. To be honest, I am disappointed in the final speaking level that I attained. Maybe I placed my expectations too high, but I feel like I comprehend French at a high school level and speak it at an elementary level. Oh well—better luck next time. I plan on maintaining what I have gained by listening to French audio books, taking classes, and of course by writing and speaking to the friends I met while abroad.

2.     To force myself away from the comfort of Pittsburgh, where I have lived my entire life.

Achieved as of January 4th. I was definitely out of my element in Europe—no need to elaborate on this point anymore as it is a reoccurring theme in my other posts.

3.     To experience the sense of absolute independence.

In France, I felt completely alone. I of course made friends, but four months isn't really enough time to acquire the type of friends that transform a place into a home. Actually, the majority of people I hung around with had already lived in Metz for some period of time, eliminating the factor of a “shared experience” that should have brought us closer together. On one hand this pushed me to adapt to my surroundings quicker, but on the other, I felt even more isolated and silly for being intimidated by inconsequential tasks (like going to a doctor alone). Furthermore, I never expected to get home sick (or rather, people sick), but I did.

I came to France feeling like I had to be alone to be independent. This isn’t true at all. I took care of myself the same abroad as I did in Pittsburgh. I was already independent.  What I discovered is that I am still a little shaky when I feel ‘alone.’ So, I must be alone again. Longer next time I think. Then I can learn how to be comfortable with absolute independence AND absolute solitude.

4.     To grow as an individual by becoming confident in my actions and problem solving abilities.

Yes. I feel invincible right now. I learned how to decipher metro maps, communicate without words, and well, fend for myself in a foreign country.

Phew. If this were an essay, I would have surpassed my word limit. That means it is almost time to stop rambling. As much as I struggled, my time abroad was amazing. I would trade my life saving to do it all again if I could. And I will. Next time however, I will not travel Europe as I did this semester. I will pick a city and stay put for more than 3 days at a time.  I will also fully immerse myself in another language. No more handicaps.

What next? Alaska, Oklahoma, and Texas. My travels are not over yet. Thanks to a slightly random and incredibly unique internship position, I have 10 flights and five cities standing between me and my senior year. Awesome. 

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