On January 22, 2020, I embarked on what was going to be one of my greatest adventures yet.
I planned on studying abroad in Dijon, France, for the next four months: I would be taking French classes alongside students of numerous nationalities, as well as exploring the historically-fascinating and adorable town of Dijon. Little did I know that approximately a month and a half later, I would be frantically booking a flight home amidst the outbreak of COVID-19.
Not only was I unable to purchase souvenirs (sorry friends and family, no Dijon mustard or black currant jam for you) and visit the Musee des Beaux Arts, but I lost so much time with the wonderful people I had the pleasure of meeting while I was there. Fortunately, due to our digital age, I was still able to complete my courses online and receive full credit.
The experience was less valuable due to the lack of immersion, and I'm sure my French did not improve as much as it would have had I actually remained in France, but I did manage to keep in touch with the close friends I had made, and I was able to see my professors and classmates through video chat.
Even though I was in the comfort of my home while finishing the semester, the video classes actually proved to be just as, if not more, tiring than those in person.
Despite my efforts to listen to the news, a podcast, or music in French at least once a day, constantly being surrounded by my English-speaking family made every French class video call a slap in the face.
Don't get me wrong, taking classes in France was exhausting, no matter how much fun they were, but the video class sessions were even more so. Reading body language is such a vital part of a conversation, especially one in which you're not speaking your native language. Quite frankly, being denied real human interaction was always draining and sometimes even disappointing.
Perhaps the strangest part of finishing the semester back home was feeling like the old version of myself while interacting with people I had met when I felt new.
One of the reasons traveling is so exciting and fulfilling is because it's an opportunity for reinvention, even on minuscule, subconscious levels. Whoever you meet while abroad is meeting a specific version of yourself at a specific moment in time of great discovery and reflection. It's refreshing to meet people who have no context of your past whatsoever.
But alas, the power of home.
There is no doubt that I carried back with me the experiences, independence, and confidence I gained while abroad, but environment is everything. The second my flight touched down in Ohio, I was back in a place of a previous life with people who knew me well.
I appreciated the familiarity, especially during such an uncertain time, but it made conversations with French professors and FaceTime dates with friends that I met abroad a little surreal. I eventually settled in, but it never ceased to feel like a tug and pull between two different inventions of myself.
Nevertheless, I am more than grateful for the experience.
Not only will I cherish the month and a half that I did have in France, but I can guarantee that I am more prepared to travel internationally and have adventures than I was before I left. This is not only because I managed to travel home by myself despite the frenzy that comes with the beginning of a pandemic, but because I am so darn ready to leave the house.