This post was contributed by Rebecca French, Senior Administrative Associate in Education Abroad, about her transformative experience studying abroad in France.
The first time I studied abroad was during my senior year of high school in l’Aigle, Normandy, France with my local Rotary Club. On my first day with my host family, I remember sobbing into a box of tissues in my room when I realized I had no idea what anyone was saying after taking 4 years of French. I immediately questioned why I had travelled across an ocean to blankly smile and nod for what would be a difficult year.
A Rotary regional district meeting was held once every two or three months in different cities of Normandy. Our first one was in l’Aigle, and that’s when I first met Jessica. She sat down next to me and with her giant smile said “Hi! I’m Jessica!” We clicked instantly. She was peppy, but also down to earth. While everyone else was interested in telling you what part of the world they were from, she was excited to learn more about you. We both started talking about the culture shock, how difficult French was to study, and how this was the most cheese we had ever eaten in our lives.
After the first regional meeting, we continued to stay in touch. We stayed up late talking on the phone about our host families, our schools, and the boys we had crushes on. We would immediately find each other at each regional district meeting and spend the weekends together. We were a constant reliable source of understanding and empathizing for each other when we were home sick. After returning to the United States, we both graduated from colleges at opposite ends of the country and moved to different countries in Asia. All the while, we stayed in touch through low quality Skype calls, texting, and terrible jokes. Each time we talked, we didn’t know when we would see each other again in person.
The first time I saw her in person after returning from France was in Toyohashi, Japan, five years later. We took the bullet train up to Tokyo and ate at conveyor belt sushi restaurants and watched Disney movies in her apartment. We went thrift store shopping in the Harajuku district, visited art museum exhibits and always talked about our plans for the future. Each time we’ve seen each other since then, we’re just continuing where we left off. When we both moved back to the States, she was the maid of honor at my wedding.
It’s been about ten years since that day we first met. We’ve both cried and laughed at a range of an inch to 10,000 miles from each other. But she’s always been my best friend. One of my favorite things about our friendship is that it helps us both keep perspective during this uncertain time. We can rely on each other to listen to whatever pandemic panic or victories we’re experiencing on a given day.
She’s one of the many people I’ve met while traveling or studying abroad that have changed my life. After connecting with people across the world, it makes it feel a lot smaller and not so daunting. I’ve found myself reaching out to friends abroad now more than ever to check in to see how they are doing and catch up. It’s been great to reminiscence about old adventures or talk about travel plans for the future. We know we’re going to see each again, although we don’t know when, or in what country or what exciting adventures we’ll have, but that’s okay. There’s still a lot tolook forward to.