While Christmas is one of my favorite holiday’s, the conversations are mostly predictable. For people like myself, who spend Christmas Eve with individuals that I tend to only see once a year I get the full spiel of questions starting with “What’s new? How’s school? What grade are you in now? What are you studying, again?” On a typical year I state the obvious facts: my university, grade, major and how I have zero idea as to what I’d prefer my full-time career to one day be. However, this year, I was able to bring something else to the conversation. Telling extended relatives and family that I will be studying in the French Riviera at an exchange school was definitely not the conversation that they had imagined, nor did I. It is still surreal to me that in a little under two weeks I will be departing on what I consider to be the journey of a lifetime. Unknowingly, my relatives began inquiring about Separation phase of our Rites of Passage that we too discussed back in November. They began asking questions involving my living arrangements and how I would adjust, if I knew anyone else involved in the program and most importantly how my parents and I felt about my safety in France under obvious, current conditions. This comes as one of my biggest challenges before I embark on my journey. While separation is pertinent to my travels, I also need to stay in close contact with my parents to ensure them of my safety at all times. As Slimbach writes in Becoming World Wise, “More than likely they will experience a weakening attachment to family and place and gradually branch out…” it is an important part of the journey to detach from what is known and enter the unknown. While at first this might be scary since there is so much unknown for my parents and I, over the weeks abroad and my experiences of me branching out, I am confident that some of their and my anxiety will be relieved.
I would be naïve to think that I could say I was studying abroad in France and not told to be cautious of my safety. It is only a natural response to everything that’s occurring the in world today to constantly be aware of our surroundings—a concept that Slimbach touches upon in the very opening pages of his book. Even without current terrorist incidents and various other concerns in our global news, an open perspective and an attentive eye is crucial to my upcoming experience. Even if it is as simple as noticing what the local townspeople’s habits, particular restaurants that are more expensive than others, or where the hotspot tourist locations are, it is imperative to notice my surroundings at any given moment. After some time of course, noticing these things will become second nature. As Slimbach writes “One of the great joys of educational travel, in whatever form, is to experience familiar things with an unfamiliar context” (pg. 5) I can already relate. When I visited London and Paris briefly a few years back, within days I felt assimilated to the culture in some aspects. I noticed in Paris how everyone sat on the same side of the table for better people-watching views of individuals going about their daily lives, but I also felt a similar connection to places such as New York City, where people-watching might be done more discretely than sitting on the same side of the table, but it still occurs.
I am eager to read the rest of this book and have it guide me on my journey, constantly pushing me as Slimbach writes in the introduction “This text will assist anyone who is intent on having his or her whole being—body, mind, and heart—stretched through the intercultural experience but who perhaps is unsure about how to prepare for it or fully benefit from it” (pg. 6). Yet, this is not the only book I am excited to have as a guide while I embark on my journey.
When having to chose a travelogue I had a difficult time since there were many novels that peaked my interest. However, finding humor in satire, I chose to pick one that captured both a love for the French but also highlighted various paradoxes in their culture. “France, a Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” written by Jonathan Miller aims to point out their educational, legal and cultural paradoxes that they pride themselves on. I chose this travelogue so that I am able to have one novel push me educationally, spiritually and physically but also have another informative novel that I can rely on for comic relief.
While I am anxious, excited and unpacked, I can not wait to board a plane on January 4th 2016, knowing that when I arrive on the other side of the “pond”, it will be home for the next four months.