You know how when you’re learning how to swim, and they tell you to move with the waves or you’ll drown. That’s what it felt like for me leading up to and after departure for Nantes. The few days prior, I felt like I was pushing against time in order to squeeze in more preparation—*cough* packing—or enjoy something I loved one more time, but ultimately, it was stressful and surreal. If I tried too hard to fight it, I could feel myself drowning like a groom with cold feet on his wedding day. I was scared, excited, anxious, hopeful, etc. If someone asked me about leaving soon, I could feel my eyes widen in the realization and uncertainty of what exactly I was feeling. All I knew was that it was 4 days. 3 days. 2 days. 1 day until…
Departure day was the weirdest feeling. I could only focus on riding the wave. I finished up last-minute packing that morning, and then, I got into the car with my boyfriend and mom: the two people I’ve been around the most this summer. Two people I could barely imagine going a long time without. The hardest part was seeing them both tear up when it was finally time for me to leave to get on an airplane all by myself. I wanted to run back to them after I couldn’t see them anymore, but I knew I couldn’t do that. I got through security without a hitch, got on my flight, and landed a few minutes early at the next airport. However, the next flight was severely delayed due to a security issue at the airport.
After 8 hours of flying with 3 other IES Abroad Nantes students, we didn’t have to deal with customs even though we were quite worried customs would prevent us from making our train. Since we made it, we met with several other students, boarded the 4-hour train, and scrambled to get into a taxi headed to the IES center. The entire time I was sleep-deprived from not being able to sleep on the flight or the train, jetlagged from the flight, and swaying the entire time. Even if I was standing perfectly still, I felt like the tides swaying. I felt like that for probably 2 full days after departure day.
Landing in France was all so overwhelming, but regardless, I was intrigued by all the different types of people, hearing the language I’ve been studying in classes, and seeing all the amazing sites of old and new. Coming from a small town, I have a few experiences from traveling to cities that prepped me for the train and other things, but that didn’t change the fact that it was still all new and bizarre. The one thing I was worried about most in finally getting to Nantes was meeting my host family. Since I will be living in their house for a whole semester, I wanted to make a good impression. My host mom picked me up from the IES center, and she made me feel right at home with her bright smile, warm energy, and enthusiastic stories. As I looked closer at things, it all reminded me of home or the United States, but it was also different. With studying French for years, there were French quirks that I remembered like the shower and toilet being in two different rooms, but I discovered many more while also noticing things that we do in the U.S. I didn’t really come with that many reservations or expectations, but one thing I enjoy in traveling is realizing that all the different places or types of people you’ve heard about are just like you and me. That’s real life. Another thing I was worried about was if I was prepared enough with my French, and although it is hard for me to understand everything that is being said, I’ve understood most. So, another shock was so much French all at once. Yes, I expected it, but the reality of it was different because French all the time overworked my brain. I was not only physically tired from running around here and there, but I was also mentally exhausted as well. The transition was difficult but manageable, and some moments were better than others. Nonetheless, little by little, I progress in French and in getting to know Nantes and its people. Never stop riding the wave and seeing where life will take you. That’s what I have to live by. No turning back now!