With only one month remaining in the semester, my “communitas” has adapted a new meaning. Although originally used in reference to members of my immediate host culture, I have made remarkable connections with some students in my program. Spending four months traveling and studying with the same students encourages a strong bond in which we mutually learn through one another’s experiences, positive or otherwise. Communitas, according to Rite of Passage Theory, is the population that strives to improve as a direct result of the traveller’s personal growth upon return. They will bring with them the fruits of their experience to nourish a mutualistic rapport. More often than not, study abroad students return with empty memories; they may have pictures with all major landmarks, but they did not dig deep and discover a new facet of their character that could be beneficial to the communitas.
As I have made clear in my previous travel logs, my language acquisition has improved immensely. Without the weekly dinners with my host mother or culture workshops with my program, I do not believe I would have successfully adapted to the French culture. Not only does that include proficiently speaking the language, but also familiarizing myself with the food, art, music and history that encompasses all that is France. This way, I am interacting with the global community and making more meaningful connections than a tourist simply passing through for the sake of traveling.
I have already addressed one element of rites of passage (program success relies on relationships). Without the cohesive relationships amongst study abroad staff and students, it would be quite difficult to establish a “strategy [that] can be implemented with sufficient commitment and creativity to make it a success,” as stated by authors Blumenkratz and Goldstein. One of the deepest connections you can form with someone, in my opinion, is one connected with travel. In essence, these are the only people that are experiencing the exact same thing as you. No one, apart from the members of your program, is experiencing the same destination during the same semester in its current political or social climates. For instance, only my fellow classmates and I will experience Paris after the November tragedies. For my digital story, I could potentially focus on the relationship that I have formed with my three closest friends in Paris and how they helped me through the transitional period of liminality.
Time alone for reflection is another essential aspect of study abroad. Sometimes we become lost in translation, literally and figuratively. As humans, we need time to process all of this information. We may find ourselves blindly following our peers’ interests, instead of pursuing our own. While it is great to broaden your horizon and visit a museum with your friend who loves art, maybe you could also reserve time to read a book at your favorite reading spot. I try to go to a location once a week by myself. I think solitary reflection is necessary for overcoming liminality; how can you become a new version of yourself when the opinions of others are affecting your experiences? Because my favorite reading spot is the Luxembourg Gardens, perhaps I could center my digital story around my independence and newfound freedom to venture out on my own which is something that I would never do at home.
Lastly, and arguably most important, is the idea of giving away one’s previous attitudes, behaviors, etc. One cannot expect to be fully immersed within a culture without abandoning their preconceived notions and old habits that may plague the voyager as they embark on new adventures. Allowing myself to relinquish American stereotypes of the French cleared a pathway to traditionally learn about the culture instead of blindly assuming all I have ever heard was true. Perhaps I could focus on my relationship with my host mother and how she either defies or supports typical stereotypes and how that has affected my experience overall.
After reading both digital story drafts, I felt I connected more with the first student’s. The writer beautifully described the process of familiarizing oneself with the host country through a specific location, which is similar to my favorite niche in France. The Luxembourg Gardens has allowed me to break out of my shell and independently explore the city.