“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
- John Hope Franklin

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Reflections...

View from La Seine
After having been back at home in the US for just over a month, I am slowly but surely readjusting to life as I knew it before going abroad.

I jumped right back into work just 2 days after getting home, so it was nice to be able to revive my bank account for a month or so before heading back to school. As I work in a grocery store, I deal with lots of people every day, and at the beginning I couldn't help but notice a few things during my shifts. First off, all the people I saw seemed so much larger than Parisians! I decided this was due to one of two reasons:

1. America is mildly obsessed with the whole "work-out" culture, thus people (and especially a lot more guys) work out more in the US and consequently have more muscle tone and are less gangly in comparison with the lean, skinny-jeaned variety you find in Paris.

2. People here are, generally speaking, just fat.

This isn't an attack on Americans or the American lifestyle, but after living in a culture where you spend so much more time each day walking (to the nearest metro station, through the metro, climbing up & down stairs, walking down the streets, strolling through parks/museums/shops, etc.) because driving through Paris is surely not the most practical or time-saving way to get around, eating small meals which are very spaced out throughout the day, and generally leading a much more active lifestyle, it's easy to see why the French are all as small as they are. I know I definitely adapted to this lifestyle while in Paris, and upon arriving home I sometimes (still!) feel like I am going to go stir crazy just sitting around and reading all my books for homework, sitting at my computer writing papers, sitting in my car while stuck in crazy Providence rush-hour traffic...frankly, I have grown to dislike the American sedentary way of life. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot I can do to change it, especially when my schoolwork keeps me glued to my desk chair for hours on end, but whenever I have time during the week or on the weekends I crave getting up and moving around - whether it's to the gym, taking a stroll around the mall, or doing obligatory things like grocery shopping.

One of Paris' many cheese shops...how I miss them!
I noticed one other strange thing during my endless shifts at the grocery store: Americans eat so much food, and it's all extremely processed. I distinctly remember feeling really disgusted during my first few shifts back, while I spent hours on end ringing up giant packs of frozen Hot Pockets, "value-size" boxes of Pop Tarts (because who doesn't love a pound of sugar to start your day?), and bottles upon bottles of sugary soda. I learned to eat more simply while in Paris - an English muffin with some fresh fruit jam and a kiwi was a fulfilling and delicious breakfast, and now even just the thought of Pop Tarts seems kind of icky. That being said, I find that lots of food here is really just too sweet for me now. For example, I never realized that the apple compote (the French equivalent of applesauce) I ate daily was unsweetened until I got home and was craving a familiar taste, only to eat a giant spoonful of applesauce and decide that I no longer liked it because it was too sweet - I, for one, would have never envisioned myself buying naturally sweetened, "No Sugar Added" foods, but I've decided now that I just prefer them. It's amazing how living away from the US for only 4 months changed my taste for food, and I wonder if it will stay like this now or gradually revert back to my pre-Paris preferences.

I miss French chocolate mousse!
A few more things that I noticed (although this is by no means an exhaustive list, as I'm still realizing things on a daily basis):

-We didn't have a clothes dryer in our apartment in Paris, so I had to hang my laundry out to dry every week instead of just popping it in a machine. Whenever the dryers at school would be full or broken, I used to see this as a major inconvenience that I'd have to use a drying rack and spend 4 hours drying my clothes instead of 40 minutes. Now, it's really not a big deal!

-Having my own car back is great. It's nice to be able to get in and go shopping for clothes, groceries, etc. at my own convenience and not have to waste time waiting for the metro or feel claustrophobic during rush hour when there's barely enough room to breathe inside.

Gorgeous weekly flower markets in Paris
-Little things like having a printer in my room once again make my life a lot easier - no more 45 minute metro rides each way to the Sweet Briar building to print off a 2 page document!

-I really appreciate the convenience of unlimited text messages on a phone with a full keyboard! Although I was able to use Facebook and Skype to keep in touch with my friends and family while I was gone, I always felt a little out of the loop when I'd see something that made me think of someone back at home and not be able to snap a quick picture of it or send a stupid message just because I could. While I had a phone and could send texts at 19 cents a pop while in Paris, I really used it sparingly and now appreciate being connected with all of my friends again - including those I made in Paris and can now freely text from home!

Say "bonjour" to my little friend...
And last but not least, even though I still get homesick for Paris and miss it every day, it's great to be back in the company of my family and friends at home. It's funny because my concept of the word "home" has changed since going abroad; although I really like Providence, I never consider going back to college as going "home" and hate when people back in MA give me something and tell me to take it "home" with me when I go back to Providence. In Paris, however, even though I only spent 4 months there as opposed to 4 years at PC, I really felt at home and would often say I was "heading home" to my host family instead of saying something like "back to the apartment." Paris has definitely captured a big piece of my heart, and as they say, "Home is where the heart is."

I know I'll definitely go back to Paris in the future and can safely say that spending a semester abroad was the best thing that I've ever done. I was so lucky to be given the opportunity to study and travel in a foreign land, and would advise anyone and everyone who can make a choice about working studying abroad into their education to jump on the next available flight!!

Happy travels! And always remember: la vie est ailleurs....


:)

3 comments:

  1. ahhhhh and thus the beauty of travel, eye opening experiences in a different culture. Home IS where the heart is and Paris occupies a place in my heart as well. I appreciate your observations and comparisons of eating habits and body size....so true. What an adventure you had, you are a very blessed young woman with a world of opportunity open to you. CAA FOREVA!!!!

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  2. What a great way to wrap up a wonderful experience! I sure did enjoy reading your entries while you were gone, but am very happy to have you back here where you should be! Love you Rach :)

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