How was Abroad?

By: Kiley Pratt

Nantes – French Language Immersion & Area Studies

I’m sitting in the Charles de Gaulle airport after a 5am car share out of Nantes because all of the trains were shut down due to the strikes (again). My flight doesn’t leave until 8:10pm tonight, which you think would give me some time to reflect and review the semester. At the same time, though, I’m not ready to review, or to refer to the three months I spent in Nantes in the past tense. I’m ready to walk home by the river by the newly flowering lilac trees, or nap in a park while listening to friends talking about the intricacies of their lives, or watch the sunset along the river after dinner as I attempt to walk off the fullness from yet another incredible meal by Jeanne, my host mom.

It’s not even that I’m sad to be leaving, although I’m sure that will come, but rather that I just can’t believe the réalités of my everyday life, which I have become so used to, will suddenly be completely different. No more study break trips to the bakery down the street, or feeling proud after being asked directions in French and being able to understand them, or searching for new places to eat lunch with the understanding that we were mostly just excited for the ice cream from the Fraserie that would follow.

At the same time, the idea of returning home to new stories from old friends is thrilling, and already sitting here and waiting for my flight I find myself looking through old photos, trying to prepare a quick ‘elevator pitch’ (30 second description of my abroad experience) to sum up the important things. This, I’ve found in the past, is essential for translating many of my experiences; there will be others with whom I can share the whole story, go through all the photos and tell them just about everything. But for those with whom I don’t have hours, or even minutes, my abroad experience needs to be a concise, informative bundle that communicates the wonders of it while at the same time acknowledging their absence in my life and making sure to let others know I am absolutely not an expert in all things French just from spending a semester abroad.

All this advance planning, especially from the salon area in Charles de Gaulle as yet another small child bangs on the red piano in the salon (I understand the concept of the free music, but practically…) might sound over the top, but for me the question of « how was Abroad? » is an opportunity for reconnection, to acknowledge the experiences had and friends and skills I now have while bringing these all into the present for a moment. One of the coolest things about this semester, as I sit here reflecting, is that while it does feel completely different and separate on one level from many things back in the US, at the same time I’ve also felt more myself, just in a new place with new people and a new language, which I am hoping means it will be easier to bring back the things I’ve learned and loved.

So while yes, technically my time in Nantes is over, there’s still friends to call and speak French with late into the night, recipes to be made, long walks to be had, and wine to be chosen. And, en fin bref, I know this brief little séjour will continue to have implications and impressions on my life, long after I leave this airport where another, different child has started up banging on the red piano.

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