A First Landing Like Crashing Waves

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!

Is It Fate?

In high school, all I knew was that I liked learning French—I was really good at it—and that I liked being able to travel. Would I have expected that I would study French in college and get the opportunity to go to France of all places? Bah, non. Living in a single-parent household where money was hard to come by, my mom has always tried to make it possible for us to go places for the best price we could muster. Like my mom, I have a MAJOR wanderlust, but certain places could only be a dream… so I thought.

My mom and I on an airplane for a Christmas vacation three years ago. Ever since my grandma passed away years ago, we’ve made it a tradition to try to go somewhere for Christmas since it’s sad without her. Thus, I always look forward to going somewhere else and experiencing something new.

 Given my love of traveling, the moment someone mentioned studying abroad with financial aid for a whole semester at a tour of Wofford the spark was ignited. Even my mom looked at me at that moment and said I’d have to figure out how to afford it/make it happen. Add being a first-generation student, I’ve tried my absolute best to do what feels impossible for me. Everyone says to dream big, so I’ve made that sort of a mission in my life. Even though the thought of studying abroad is very exciting, I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t scare me.

I was still a freshman when I quickly decided on my majors by the second semester: Psychology and French. In turn, I had to look at programs and everything. I quickly decided on the first one I laid my eyes on because the others just could not compare, and it was the IES Abroad Nantes program. The internship, availability of taking a Psychology course that would count for a required Psych elective at Wofford, the long history with many past Wofford students going there, and other details added up to make it exactly what I wanted. Then, I met the program directors in my sophomore year when out of all the programs that could have visited, they were right here. It felt meant to be.

However, COVID hit and made everything confusing. Regardless, I felt the desire to continue in my gut because I only have one life to live, and I want to think back to France when I’m old recounting endless stories to children who don’t want to hear it. I stressed myself to get things together to go in Spring 2021, but that fell apart. So, I took several French courses, and I became good friends with the French assistant at Wofford for the 2020-2021 academic year who is actually from Nantes of all places. Again, in reflection, the postponement of the program for me felt fated as it gave me a chance to improve my French level and further get to know a Nantaise.

The French assistant, Lucile, and I at the local French-inspired morning café, Mon Amie, in celebration of one of the French professor’s retirement.

This summer, it has been quite the rollercoaster despite all of that. In addition to the many preparations for studying in a foreign country, my mom had to stop working due to her right shoulder which she was going to have surgery on in late summer for the major tear and other things like a frozen shoulder. Other issues like what little bit of money I could make this summer was the only income for the bills and dealing with many health and non-health related issues myself made it harder. That said, my mental health suffered severely dealing with so much stress. One by one, I’ve succeeded in handling my issues this summer, and continue to tackle the rest. Although this summer hasn’t gone the way I wanted, such as working on law school applications (I think I will have to take a gap year due to the little time I have during the academic year) and to be not so stressed, I continue to be an optimist despite worries like money, if I’m good enough (in general and in French), if I can truly handle the change, and other doubts like that. The one thing I know is I have to go. If I don’t, then I will regret not taking this opportunity.

In turn, there are so many benefits that can change my life forever. Academically and professionally, I can increase my French level with this language intensive program, make good grades in only French-speaking courses, learn different ways of learning through the French university, increase my network, and do a teaching internship that can go on my resume. Personally, I can gain more independence, self-confidence, a better understanding of the world, and learn from a different culture on how our lives differ. There are so many facets to life that sometimes I think we get stuck in our ways for better or worse because it’s just comfortable, but it’s important to be uncomfortable in order to grow. So, although these personal changes are what I expect, they are also what I look forward to—and all the amazing views, fashion styles, and friends I will make in France—no matter how much it scares me. One thing I heard long ago is that bravery is not possible without some fear. Without fear and uncertainty, bravery cannot exist. So, I’m going to be brave and continue on this course no matter where it leads me.

Here is an old photo of me at the top of a hill with the Gateway Scholars at Wofford. This was taken right before I started my Freshman year, and I’ve always felt like it’s a wonderful photo to represent adventure and looking forward to the future which is so important to me.