I celebrate my nineteenth birthday tomorrow, but that’s not really what’s on my mind.
In exactly seventeen days, I’ll be landing in Charles de Gaulle airport and starting my new life, à Paris. For the first time in my being, the fourteenth isn’t the climax of May, but the day on which I can demand any remaining items of my family for what will be a bigger climax than all of my birthdays combined.
I found out that I was going to Paris almost exactly three months ago, but it didn’t quite feel real until I received an email yesterday with information regarding my host family. Before that, the thought of my summer abroad was just that: a thought. It was simply my automatic answer to mine and every other college student’s favorite question, “so what are you doing with your summer?” It wasn’t until my ethereal thought was grounded with a surname and address that it finally occurred to me: I’m actually living in Paris this summer.
While I initially panicked upon the realization that I’m actually going to Paris and that I’m actually not prepared at all, I’ve come to realize that’s part of the splendor of traveling abroad: Nothing can prepare me for what I’ll experience. Sure, I can buy all the items on one of the infamous, trite “Ultimate Study Abroad Packing List” articles. Sure, the laptop lock that I requested as a birthday present will be very useful when I attempt to do a bit of studying at cafés. But those are items to help me prepare physically; what do I do to prepare emotionally?
In my remaining weeks in America, I can imagine that I’ll keep doing more to “prepare” myself. I’ll pack my bags, I’ll hopefully receive the laptop lock that I’ve always wanted for my birthday, and I’ll keep reading my talk-like-a-French-teenager book so I can be totally hip and up with French slang. I’ll continue to dream about baguettes and French fashion, and I’ll search Google for Paris’s top restaurants and hangout spots one or two more times.
So what’s my secret as to how I’m truly preparing myself for living in a foreign country? Here it is: I don’t have one.
I realize that nothing I buy or study will prepare me for the six life-altering weeks I’ll spend living in the city of lights and love. All I can do is start the voyage with an open mind and let the beautiful city take me on an unforeseeable journey into the depths of its history-rich musées, its concealed marchés on cobblestone alleyways, and perhaps into the depths of my mind. I don’t know what lies ahead, but that’s just part of this journey.
The next time I post, I’ll be in Paris. So on that note, à la prochaine (“until the next time.”) I’ll let you know if I get that laptop lock that I asked for.