Cultural shock

I was prewarned before coming to Europe that I would receive a culture shock. But culture shock, what’s that? What could possibly be so difficult to grasp–to enjoy–when you’re in the magnificient city of Paris?

All my friends envied me when I told them of my plans to study abroad for the whole year. ”Paris? I’m so jealous! You’re going to have such a great time!” My dad, who had also spent his junior year abroad but with Hamilton College, told me it would be the best year of my life. I had so much to look forward to–so many sites that I already wanted to see even before stepping onto the plane. ”The world is your oyster,” I was told. And, “you only live once.”

Yet, after arriving in Paris, despite my fascination with the beautiful and historical attractions and my happiness to be abroad, it was difficult to acclimate. I went from being a student who always raises her hand in class to one who was afraid to speak even though I have a good grasp of the language. My dad’s French family friends were amazed at my knowledge of French–at my ability to understand what they said and respond to their questions, but that didn’t convince me.

I came to Tours wanting to speak French and in the beginning, introduced myself in French and attempted to have French conversations. But, receiving a response in English only made me retreat.

It’s not that I’ve always had it easy. But, I’ve come to the realization that because I’m a perfectionist, being surrounded by French students in class, makes me afraid to say something incorrectly. Am I worried about their reaction? Perhaps. Yet, I think it’s more personal–I’m more self-critical than fearful of judgment.

At first, I couldn’t explain how I felt. I was enjoying myself, meeting new people and having once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but I still wasn’t me. But, how can “culture shock” take so long to grasp? It’s been a month, and I’m just beginning to feel at home. This past week, I stayed in Belgium and Holland and when coming back to Paris, I thought that I was going home. I was happy to be back. It was no longer a “foreign” city after having visited those two other countries. It was familiar, comfortable.

And, while it took me about a month and traveling to another place to realize that, I am relieved. When I got lost in Belgium or Holland, it wasn’t the United States that I wanted to return to–it was Paris. For the rest of the year, Paris will be my home, and now, it feels that way.

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