As I fly over the Atlantic Ocean, hurtling towards the United States, it finally dawns on me that my semester abroad has come to an end. It didn’t hit me while I was awake, bleary-eyed and severely lacking sleep at 3 AM to catch a bus to the Lyon Airport, nor when I was running through the London-Heathrow Airport to arrive at my gate in time for boarding. Not even when I bade farewell to my friends did I really recognize that we were parting ways, that I was leaving France. I think a small piece of me just thought, I’ll see them tomorrow.
Now, however, sitting thousands of feet in the air, I finally realize that France is behind me (literally and figuratively). I will not have to wake up in time to catch the tram to campus anymore. I will not have to plan out my meal times, or pause for a few seconds to formulate my thoughts in French. My life will go back to how it was before, as if my time in France had only been a dream.
Yet these four months were certainly not a dream. I cannot tell you how they’ve changed me because I am only just emerging from them. My guess is the changes will be subtle, that I won’t quite notice them at first. Maybe no one else will, either. But my semester abroad curls through the folds of my brain as knowledge and memories, and one cannot keep that from altering them in some way.
What I do know is that I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad in France. The months passed with frightening speed, and I don’t think I really got the chance to pause, look around, and breathe it all in. Perhaps that is what I am doing now as I fly home to Texas—pausing, looking, breathing. Catching those last few glimpses of an experience that will very soon become part of the past. I am happy to go home, as I miss my friends and family and a sense of normalcy. I am sad as well, that I will no longer call France home. For now, all I can do is be grateful I had this experience, hold onto the memories and friends I made while there, and hope that one day I will return.