My semester abroad is officially over.
I ended it by taking one last opportunity to run around Europe, by visiting some friends in the very small town of Arcy-sur-Cure in Borgognes, France.
Arcy is a small town—so small, it’s home to only 500 inhabitants. Every time you cross someone in the street, you must say “Bonjour”; if you’re introduced to a stranger, it’s a friend’s closest confidante, so you must kiss both cheeks. It’s exactly the kind of place I never really believed existed. And yet, here it was.
I spent my time in Arcy helping around the aubgerge my friends own, reveling over 6-course French meals made by an amazing chef, interpreting between languages for the guests, fitting a newly-built addition to the structure, and biking across the countryside with house dog Billy in search of a vast field in which to read my favorite novel… in French.
I did a lot, but a lot of the time I did absolutely nothing, except think about the ways I’ve changed this semester. I could list those, but I think what challenged me more—and I imagine what challenges many students upon leaving their host country—are the insidious ways in which I’ve not changed.
I’ve become more outspoken, candid, and settled in my personality; all of these things are true miracles and blessings that I wake up grateful for every day. But even having accomplished so many of my goals in a hospitable and warm city far, far away from home—I still have some of the same problems Amanda from Orlando, Florida had a year ago.
I only have two speeds: full ahead or glacial crawl. I take medication for a mental illness. I miss people dearly—often more than I imagine they can miss me.
After getting back from France, I spent all of Saturday in bed. I steamrolled through my Netflix list, ate half a box of second-rate grocery store cookies, and did nothing. This kind of “blue” day, as my friends and I have come to call them, snuck up on Orlando Amanda all the time—but surely New and Improved, Enlightened, Confident & Healthy Amanda could fend off such a disgraceful day?
I’ve wrestled with the permanence of that blueness in my life all weekend, until today, when I got up early to do the shopping, did my yoga, sorted out my calendar, made appointments, sat down to write this… when I was functional. Eating cucumber slices instead of cookies. And I just realized—
It’s not about losing the blue. It’s about gaining all the other colors.
Having new experiences and growing isn’t about shedding the old things (even though we might want to); it’s about deepening who we are. If I arrived in London as a cosmo, a kind of mess of dreams and troubles and skills and failings, I left London a single nebula, a cluster of focused, inspired energy. It still gets hot in some places and cold in others; some days I shine brightly and other days I don’t. But I think gaining what I have is still a gift.
I’m growing into myself. That’s what studying abroad did for me.