On Sunday I packed my suitcases, said a final goodbye to my host parents, boarded a train to Avignon, and cried behind my sunglasses.
I’m going to miss Lyon. Sometimes when you travel you find a place that truly feels like a home. Lyon did, despite the fact that I basically lived out of a suitcase for five weeks. Now that I’ve left, it feels a little like I’ve lost something. Like I should mourn. It’s an awkward feeling because, unless they were there with you, it’s impossible for people to understand.
But at the same time, I know it’s sort of a universal feeling. I’ve seen the tears in my mom’s eyes when she says goodbye to the Pacific ocean and heads back to the Midwest. Some places are so much bigger than you, so beautiful, so connected to so many memories and experiences, that they steal a little part of you and never give it back.
One thing, though, that I have realized: travel is such a gift. And what you learn and what you do and what you become, the relationships you form: that doesn’t go away when you board the plane back home. You get to keep it forever.
Cheesy, maybe, but true. This trip has changed my life. I’m stronger, smarter, braver, wiser, more self-sufficient, less naive, and more open-minded.
Moreover, there were so many challenges to deal with that I had to learn to take France day-by-day, hour-by-hour. I no longer spend hours worrying and overanalyzing; I no longer hide in my room with a book and a jar of Nutella. There’s no time for that. Now I know I can do hard, scary things, and I can do them with confidence, and if I fail, then I can learn from it and move on. It’s an attitude I’ve always wanted but have never possessed until this trip.
More than that, though, my time here has taught me so much about other people. The way they see the world, their philosophies on life. The obvious and the subtle differences between America and France; between Americans and the French.
I’ve learned that I’m not always right, nor is my country.
I’ve learned too, that most people are really kind. Most people want to help you. Flawless verbal communication is not necessary for a real relationship, nor are a lot of words.
In short, I suppose, the chance to see France not as a tourist, but as a traveler, a foreigner, and a stranger, has shown me the world is much more beautifully complex than I ever knew. So while leaving is sad, the perspective I’ve gained here makes me more excited about life in general, wherever it’s lived.