The Act of Leaving

It’s taken me longer than it should have to be able to write this post. I’ve been putting it off. And I actually wrote two or three other drafts that I completely scrapped because I hated them so much. For some reason, I feel like I’ve just needed this post in particular to be perfect. I want my words to be perfect. I want all of you reading this to read my words and somehow be teleported into my mind’s eye. So here goes nothing.

I left Besançon on May 21 at 9:56 a.m. That is the exact time that my train at Gare Viotte pulled out of the station. I think I left Besançon the only way I really knew how to: in a rush, without thinking about what was actually happening.

I had been out until 5 a.m. the night before at a party at my friend’s apartment. Most of my friends were there. It was a great last hurrah after spending the previous week in complete denial. The thought of leaving was making me sick and making my head spin.

Needless to say, at this party we spent the whole night drinking a bit and laughing a lot. We all danced and joked and talked and reminisced. We talked about where we would go after we left, who was leaving first and when, what those who were going to be staying were doing in the meantime and after the rest of us cleared out.

The thought of leaving all the friends I had made was too much to bear. I wouldn’t have gotten through the semester without the support of my fellow Americans, who understood the struggle of trying to fit in to French culture and society, trying not to seem too American and trying to manage our way speaking the native language all at once. It was nice having people around who could always relate to you and who could help you out along the way. It’s also nice to know that seeing each other again is just a drive to Toronto away.


I will never forget all of the other friends I made abroad, who come from all over the world, who have made such a lasting impact on me. I don’t know if they realize how much they have affected my world view for the better and how much I feel that they have made me a better person because of it. Though there was some comfort in having fellow Americans around and being able to easily speak English at times when I felt my brain would implode or overheat from overuse and trying to speak French, there were certainly more times than few where speaking French to all my non-anglophone friends was maybe even better. That’s what we were in France for anyway. Communicating with these friends and hanging out with them meant practicing. They made my French better, but they also taught me so much about where they come from, the way their lives are or were back home, and I got to learn a few Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Indonesian words/phrases along the way.


I above all learned from the people I lived with. But they should know this. Ben, like my other American friends, had already gone what I had been going through the semester before. I was scared and felt a little alone and was anxious to try to speak French. But we spoke in French together anyway despite our mother tongue, and he helped me when I didn’t know what I was saying. Laura taught me more about French culture and language and people than most of my professors did, and we got to bond and share music at the same time. Even if there were some language barriers at times, more often than not we would find ourselves laughing at something, whether it be stupid YouTube videos or Ben (you know it’s out of love). And Joelle was the second mother I needed when I really felt like I needed someone. She also taught me more about French culture and language than I ever could have possibly imagined. And my time abroad was seriously enriched because I lived with these people and from having known them. I miss them a lot. They know this too. And I will probably forever be nostalgic about my time living at 124 Grande Rue. It kills me to know that we will never live in those same circumstances ever again. I wish I could go back for a few days or a few weeks just to relive it again.

What really sucks about the act of leaving is knowing that you are leaving so many people you’ve grown to love behind, a life you’ve made yourself behind. Being back home has made me realize how foreign it all was. I feel like living in Besançon feels more like a dream than anything. A really great dream that I lived for a little while, then blinked one day and suddenly it was over.

I think it goes without saying that I began to cry as my train pulled out that sunny Saturday morning. I am at least a little thankful that I woke up late and had to rush out of the apartment so that I didn’t really have a formal goodbye with all that I was leaving. It was very quick and last minute, and Joelle really put the pedal to the metal as we raced to catch my train. But as I hugged her goodbye and held her hand it all became that more real and I had to face the fact I was leaving. I held it in until I got on the train and thank God my friend Jesse was there by chance otherwise I would have been bawling. Before the train pulled out Joelle opened the door one last time as tears were streaming down my face and I was trying to rearrange my luggage. She snapped a picture and I really would love to see what that looks like: me forcing a smile behind eyes welled up in tears, waving goodbye for the last time for who knows how long. The best way I could describe leaving was like the worst breakup ever, or like losing a best friend. I felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest. I felt homesick for Besançon the second the train started to move.

Having the opportunity to go visit family in Croatia definitely softened the blow and the heartache of leaving Besançon. I got to explore Zagreb and Osijek (the city where my dad grew up) and I got to discover so much about my family as well as myself there, too. I helped my cousins speak English and they helped me with whatever very basic Croatian I’m familiar with (‘bok’ means ‘hello’; ‘volim te’ means ‘I love you’; ‘kako si’ means ‘how are you?’; ‘ja sam se vratila kući’ means ‘I came home,’ which I had to repeat at least 15 times before I memorized how to say it so that I could say it to my dad and grandma upon arriving home; and the letter ‘s’ on its own means ‘with’ … that I will never understand). I even got to a ride a motorcycle! (Thanks Sale).


I saw a lot of cool places and met a lot of cool people and got to connect with family that I’d never met before. I don’t know how many people get to say they’re able to do that, but in any case I’m very fortunate. And also needless to say, I was also exceptionally sad to leave them too; it felt like connecting with a part of myself I never would have been able to otherwise, flirting with a life that could have been and then I had to pack my bags once again and leave a short 10 days later. I knew that if I looked my grandma’s sister Mira in the eyes as I hugged her goodbye for the third time, I would start bawling then, too, so I refrained because otherwise I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop.

Goodbyes are never easy. Leaving home in New York sure as hell wasn’t easy when I was leaving for France. But then you adjust and you make these places your home and the process of leaving becomes just as hard from the other side. In studying abroad and traveling, I learned so much about myself and what I am capable of, what it is I need help with, and that it is always possible to find a solution, and that there are always people there to help you and guide you and hug you or hold your hand when you need it most. The semester was hard for a lot of different reasons; adjusting to life in France, dealing with loss. But the goods outweighed the bad. You meet people. You see these amazing, different parts of the world. You go out of your comfort zone. You learn how to speak a second language, and you learn about dozens of others. You create friends from all over the world and suddenly you find that you have so many places and people to visit in the future. There are so many places you have to return to, lots of memories to relive, and lots of new memories to create.

A very new friend in France told me on my last night in Besançon that the Germans have a proverb that says “you always meet twice in life.” I hope that saying is true for so many things. For all the people I met, for all the places I visited, for all the feelings I felt, for all the experiences I had.

I’ll miss Croatian food and Croatian hospitality and my family. I’ll miss speaking French. I’ll my cute little room at Joelle’s with my window view of la Colline de Chaudanne. I’ll miss watching French sitcoms with Joelle and learning about the adventurous experiences she had as a traveler and English teacher. I’ll miss messing around with Ben and Laura at our kitchen table. I’ll miss the 5 bus because it was the only line I got a handle of over my five-month stay in Besançon. I’ll miss the people and the places like the Gare d’Eau or Place Granvelle. Maybe I won’t miss the rain so much. The sun of New Paltz has been pretty nice lately.

There is also a whole lot of comfort in knowing how easy it was to come back to New York and New Paltz. Coming home you don’t expect everything and everyone to be the same, but it is and they are. And though I may feel different for a lot of different, better ways, I haven’t really changed all that much. Everything is more or less the same, and after five months of complete unfamiliarity, there is a lot to be gracious for in the familiar. This was my home before I left and this is still my home now. I’ll probably miss Besançon and Europe for a long time and feel nostalgic whenever a memory pops back into my head, but being home in New York has never felt sweeter.

I’m grateful for the memories I made abroad. And someday I know I’ll come face to face with all of it again, and maybe the second time around I won’t be so scared. As the famous Pooh quote goes, and I don’t know that I could find a better quote that speaks to me so well than in this moment:

“How lucky I am to have something that makes leaving so hard.”

I’ll end this with a song, for nostalgia’s sake, and for knowing that the world isn’t as big as it may seem:

Merci beaucoup, j’ai appris trop de moi-même, et je n’oublierai pas mes expériences. À la prochaine, hein ?

Love Is Imperative: Dealing With Loss Abroad

Yesterday I woke up from a nap to my host mom, Joelle, asking me if I wanted her to cut my hair. I’ve been needing a change. I’ve also been in need of sleep.

I ended my weekend by waking up late on Sunday morning. I wrote my last blog about the Tour du Monde and then made plans to meet my friends at Place Granvelle, around the corner from my apartment, to enjoy the Carnaval festivities. I ate a hot dog on a baguette (very French), admired the couples dancing in the drizzle, and felt a happy nostalgia looking at little kids walking through the park with their pastel pink barb à papa (cotton candy). Then my friends and I spent two hours on Grande Rue watching the marching bands and other spectacles go down the street for two hours. There was a lot of confetti. My feet were tired but I was happy.

I went home to eat dinner with Joelle and do my homework, which ironically was on the subject of “le bonheur,” or happiness, what happiness is all about, and the like.

Right before I sent my homework in to my professor I got a message from my best friend Kate. “Are you up? I need to talk to you,” she wrote me. I sensed the urgency in her message but only assumed she wanted to vent about school or friends or relationship stuff. I wish I had been right. Instead, when she finally gave me a call, I heard her voice as well as the voice of my other best friend Jess, as both of them tried to hold back tears as they told me the devastating news of the passing of our friend Tom.

I thought I heard wrong. Everything stopped for a second. And then I began to sob. I spent the rest of the night crying and on the phone with friends abroad and on the home-front. Talking and crying together and demanding an answer for why this terrible nightmare was happening, why it had become real life.

The rest of my week has been spent in the company of spurts of sobs, nervous anxiety, and Tom’s “Good Stuff” playlist on Spotify. I was jittery in every class I managed to go to. I tried to keep it together as much as I could. I’ve been missing class. I’ve had trouble sleeping. I’ve had trouble concentrating.

I’ve had “Aphasia” by Pinegrove and “Big Black Car” by Gregory Alan Isakov on repeat. I’ve been remembering Tom’s laugh and how tiny my 5’3 stature was next to him standing at 6’3. I’ve been remembering his easy, comforting, silly nature and not to mention his Long Island mom impression. I’ve been too busy trying to figure all of this out, trying to wrap my head around it, unable to.

But through it all I have been in constant contact with my friends back home, as well as a few of my girlfriends who are abroad like me. It’s been one of the only things getting me through the week.

We’ve all been talking. Venting. Reminiscing. Thinking. Simply comforting each other. Trying to forget for a moment and giving each other something to laugh about instead.

Being far from home hasn’t been easy through all of this. I’ve found myself needing my best friends more than ever and it’s hard being thousands of miles away from them. My friends and I abroad tried to make plans to meet somewhere just to be with each other, to have some familiarity, as that is what we have all been lacking while we are across the ocean from our New Paltz family. We first made plans to meet in Florence. When that didn’t work out, we tried for London. That didn’t work for all of us either. But I’m glad that my friends Hara and Becca got to spend a few days together to be there for one another.

I’ve particularly had a hard time in terms of expressing myself, given that I talk to most people here in French. More often than not I have just given up and started speaking English. My professors have noticed I am not entirely myself, have asked me what is wrong and have tried to comfort me. My foreign friends have noticed it too, and as it is too hard a subject to communicate in French, they have just managed to understand me with nonverbal communication. It’s amazing how sweet and caring people can be even when you don’t actually say much of anything. It’s amazing how much people can still comfort and understand you.

Thursday my two Chinese friends (Meitong & Yuqi), one Japanese friend (Mayuko) and one Indonesian friend (Angga) and I spent the entire afternoon sitting by the water, followed by sitting in the cat café across from my apartment. We spent our time drinking coffee and teaching each other expressions, whether funny, vulgar, loving or otherwise, in each other’s native languages. I laughed and I forgot about everything for a while. I was in good company and that was all that mattered.


Through all of this I have learned how important it is for people to be there for each other, to be empathetic and sympathetic and to reach out to those who are hurting. I am blessed to have solid support systems on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. I wouldn’t be able to get through this without either of them.

When dealing with loss abroad, it is important to be there for the people who are going through these circumstances alone. To let them cry on your shoulder. To simply ask them how they are doing or if they are okay.

It isn’t easy going through it on either end – whether abroad or at home. But it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. That there are people around who care about you and love you. Who want to hear you out and comfort you and make you forget the heartbreak for at least a little while.

Thursday morning my professor Claire noticed I was still not myself. We were doing an exercise where we had to differentiate the past tenses. She chose whoever to act them out so that we would have a better understanding through a visual context. We got to an exercise that dealt with someone walking in a classroom and everyone applauding. I knew she was going to call on me. And of course she did.

I walked out of the classroom and walked back in to applause from all of my friends, going along with the exercise, everyone laughing and smiling, having a good time and making me feel good. I knew Claire had done this for me just to make me smile and laugh, to make me feel a little bit better, to see a real, unforced smile on my face again. It worked, and it almost brought me to tears.

So if there is a lesson to learn from this saddest of all weeks maybe it’s this: love is imperative. And it is so important to lift each other up. Be there for your friends and loved ones. Try to make them smile in any way you can. Let them know how important, how integral they are to your life. Share your love. Let it be heard and felt and known. All it takes is a phone call, a hug, a listening ear or simply just a hand to hold.

Despite all the heartache and despite all the miles in between, I know that all of our broken hearts will be mended, in some way or another glued back piece by piece. Love is imperative. Your love is imperative. The love of your friends and family is imperative.

Love you and miss you forever, Tom O’Rourke.


The Real Definition of Melting Pot

Besançon is a melting pot. It’s a very eclectic little city, but despite its small size and the fact that most people have never heard of it when you ask them, there are thousands of people living here from all over the world: Thailand, Syria, Belorussia, Iran, Japan, China, the Republic of the Philippines, Indonesia, Italy, Senegal; the list goes on and on.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines melting pot as “a place where different types of people live together and gradually create a community.” If you ask me, that describes Besançon pretty well. Especially after the Tour Du Monde en 80 Plats (Around the World in 80 Plates – yes, a clear play on words of Around the World in 80 Days), where I feel the definition is present both literally and metaphorically speaking.

The Tour Du Monde, in something like its 20th year running, was held this past Tuesday and Wednesday, March 29 and 30. This event, to put it simply, pretty much exemplified everything that Besançon is and has to offer: the different people, the different food and all of the different culture blended into one event over the course of two days.

Everyone from their individual countries got together to cook and bake traditional homemade cuisine. Our American team made barbecue pulled chicken, corn bread, coleslaw and cheesy potatoes (thanks to Griffin, Jesse, Katherine and Kyle) as well as banana bread (thanks to Genesis) and cheesecake (thanks to yours truly, Tori, Kate, Laura and Hespera).

The Americans! (left to right) : Hespera, me, Katherine, Kate, Jesse, Kyle, Tori, Griffin, Laura, Leanne, Kevin, Riley.

The Americans! (left to right) : Hespera, me, Katherine, Kate, Jesse, Kyle, Tori, Griffin, Laura, Leanne, Kevin, Riley.

Last Monday was the day we started baking. Tori and I woke up early to go food shopping, and from there on we were all making cheesecake from dawn until dusk: 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Twelve hours and nearly 30 containers of Philadelphia cream cheese later, we were all completely drained, covered in Speculoos crumbs and cheesecake batter, with 170 mini cheesecakes and three big cheesecakes cooling outside my apartment.

I woke up Tuesday morning feeling some sort of hungover. I had drained all the life out of myself. I relaxed all day until I knew friends were coming by to help me carry the cheesecakes around the block (it’s a good and convenient thing I live where I do) – I also knew the long night we all had ahead of ourselves.

I walked into the Grand Kursaal where the event was being held: a big theater filled now with tables and chairs for the people who would be coming to eat all different varieties of food. Everyone was setting up at their individual tables. Chinese lanterns hung next to our big American flag. The room was rushed and buzzing.

grand kursaal 2

Le Grand Kursaal. Photo by Mayuko Hamada.

I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever felt such a lively, enthusiastic energy in a room before. Everyone was excited to tell their guests about their food, their culture and themselves. As Americans, it was sometimes easy for us to understand why the guests chose other tables over ours at first. People knew more about the United States than most other countries at the Tour Du Monde. But when people came over to us and actually took the time, they realized we were more than just burgers and fries. Our servings started to dwindle. Our cheesecake even sold out on the first night (so yes, we did have to make more the next day… 15 more containers of Philadelphia, 131 mini cheesecakes and three more cakes later…).

Being as this event was run by the social/cultural activities coordinators from the CLA (our university), a lot of our friends from class were there. And that’s another cool thing about living in Besançon and going to school at the CLA: you meet so many new, interesting and diverse people here from all over the world. Our friends from South Korea introduced us to chicken marinated with garlic and other spices, ketchup and a sauce called “gochujang” (“닭강정” in Korean, pronounced “dakgangjeong”) along with a traditional honey cookie called “yakgwa.”

Korean chicken dish: Dakgangjeong.

Korean chicken dish: Dakgangjeong. (Picture by Yeonsu Chu)

Our friends from China made homemade spring rolls (“nems” in French, “春卷” in Chinese, pronounced “chun juan”), rice with shrimp and vegetables, spicy tofu (ma po tofu), and a dessert called “perles de coco” (the French translation, “nuomici” in Chinese) a glutinous rice dumpling filled with a sweet red bean paste and coated with coconut. I tried homemade sushi made by my friend Mayuko. I also walked around and tried food from the Philippines and Syria (it turns out Syrian food is incredible; would recommend).

Japanese food. Photo by Mayuko Hamada.

Japanese food. Photo by Mayuko Hamada.

Most of all it was just super cool and inspiring to be able to (and to have to, for that matter) communicate with everyone in French. It was so interesting and enlightening to be surrounded by people whose only common language was French (though some people would throw us Americans a “hello” or a “thank you” every now and again).

Photo by Kyle VanKrimpen.

American food! Photo by Kyle VanKrimpen.

And naturally, when you’re standing next to a bunch of people in a crowded room for hours, legs hurting and feet sore from standing too long, you need to find things to distract yourself. You start talking to people – maybe in French like all of us. You start to learn more about them and their culture. You learn why they came to France in the first place, what they’re looking to accomplish here, when they’re going home, which meal they made for their stand, which meal they liked from yours. Not to mention everyone complimented our cheesecake. That was enough to put me on Cloud 9. Everything about the Tour Du Monde was fun. I just felt giddy.

(left to right) Mayuko (who bought our cheesecake!), me, Kate.

(left to right) Mayuko (who bought our cheesecake!), me, Kate.

Not only was there food but there was entertainment too, or “les spectacles.” We watched our friends from Japan and Indonesia perform their cultures’ traditional dances. The music and the movements were so catchy we caught ourselves dancing and vibing along while we watched them. Riley performed a traditional Irish step dance and Griffin played a couple songs on the guitar to represent the United States.

At the end of Wednesday’s night, as the night was coming to a close, everyone got up on stage as Vincent, the coordinator acknowledged each of the countries that participated. They played a couple songs that we all danced to on stage, ending with Psy’s “Gangnam Style (강남스타일)” (it was super cool to see people, a couple of my friends among them, who actually understood the lyrics and could legitimately sing along to them).

But like I said, the Tour Du Monde was probably my best/favorite experience while being abroad yet. Being able to talk to people, laugh with them, learn about them, and teach them some stuff about yourself and your culture, all while speaking French, has just been so gratifying. It makes knowing I have to leave this city and all these people in about two months that much harder and that much sadder. And with a two-week spring break approaching at a rapid speed (it’s already next week, woohoo!!) it’ll all be going by that much quicker. I’ll just have to try to make the most of it and make it last for as long as I possibly can.

Thanks to all my American friends who helped bake with me, who cooked and baked all of our other food, set up our decorations and who have become like a little extension of my family. Thanks to all the other friends I have made while I’ve been here – y’all know who you are, and I have learned so much from all of you. These are truly experiences I will never forget.

(left to right) Yeonsu, Ghozy, Kate, me, Yuqi.

(left to right) Yeonsu, Ghozy, Kate, me, Yuqi.

(left to right) Meitong, Yuqi, Angga, me, Kate, Ghozy, Yeonsu.

(left to right) Meitong, Yuqi, Angga, me, Kate, Ghozy, Yeonsu.

On Adjusting

In about a week I’ll have officially been living in Besançon for two months. I really can’t fathom that in my brain. I’m caught between feeling like the time has flown by, while also feeling like I’ve been here much longer than two months. But maybe that’s just because I’ve been constantly on the move. Between having class and trying to travel, it’s easy to get tired and I’m actually just getting over being sick. This weekend has been good for me because I’ve finally had a chance to relax after trying to get all I can out of being here. Maybe that’s a sign of adjustment, too.

After the couple of months I’ve lived here, it’s easy to say I feel adjusted. It took me a little while though. I probably have only really ACTUALLY started to feel adjusted sometime within the last few weeks. Speaking French to my host mom and my French housemates and people on the streets and in stores has become something of second nature – whether my French skills are that great or not. In any regard, I’ve adjusted to having to speak a second language.

When I visited one of my friends from home last week in London, we went out to buy a couple of beers to have with dinner. Upon having to actually purchase the beer, I told my friend that I felt inclined to speaking in French. It was one of the best feelings, because that really showed me that my mind had finally started acclimating to my surroundings in France. I’ve spent the last few months asking for things in French, checking out of stores in French, reading, writing, communicating as a whole in French – for the most part at least.

Speaking the language has certainly been the biggest struggle for me, as I’m sure it is for most of, if not everyone studying abroad in a foreign country. It’s hard to exactly communicate the things you want to say if you haven’t grown up in that culture. Either that, or it simply takes years to really get the culture of the slang and the base of the informal language down pat. That is one of the things my English-speaking friends and I have been noticing: the way that we learn French back at home in the United States just seems too formal. Sure, we learn how to formally write sentences, paragraphs, essays and the like. But when it comes to actually having to communicate, we’ve been taught so formally that it’s as if we’re about to read a speech. People don’t talk here the way we learn in class or the way that you would necessarily talk to a professor in a classroom. While I understand this classroom logic, I also think it’s direly important to teach students how to speak a bit casually. Because when it comes to actually talking to people, there isn’t time to think about how to invert a question and stuff to that effect. You just have to speak, otherwise you’ll miss the entire conversation.

Speaking has certainly gotten easier for me. A woman helping my friend and I at a bookstore actually complimented our French speaking skills the other day. This is not to say that my French is suddenly perfect, but if that didn’t make my week, I sure as hell don’t know what did. It feels good to know that I’m able to communicate with people to the point where they understand me, I can speak a little quicker, and I can get around without feeling completely foreign or awkward. Besançon is really starting to feel like a little piece of home.

Other than language and communication, it’s been pretty easy to adjust living here. What’s so hard about learning to adjust to a diet of mainly bread, wines and cheeses? I’ll tell you what: absolutely nothing. And the French do it in a way as to not overindulge as well, which makes it even better.

There is not much else I have to say about the food here other than the fact that it’s just good. There are a lot of potatoes in the salads and there is horseradish salad dressing everywhere I turn. I also live around the block from a little restaurant called La Boîte à Crêpes and my friends and I have gone there consecutively the past few Fridays.

Another way I’ve learned to adjust has been by going for runs. It’s a good way to assimilate myself with my surroundings, so I feel a little less like a stranger and a little less foreign in the city I’m living in.

Adjusting to the time difference back home has also been one of my bigger challenges. It’s been the reason I’ve been losing a decent amount of sleep on school nights. It’s difficult when you have 8:30 a.m. classes four days a week and friends, family and a boyfriend back in New York who are still wide awake and living their day to days when it’s time for you to go to sleep. Most days, I make it work somehow.

I’m also constantly surprised by the amount of people who are shocked and amazed that I’m from New York. Someone asks you where you’re from and you say that and sparks ignite in their eyes. I kid you not. It’s pretty gratifying actually. It usually is followed up by a “so what the heck are you doing in Besançon?” kind of question.

But that’s what I like about being here most. It’s different than the things and the places and the people I’m used to. It’s been nice having to adjust to something completely out of my comfort zone. And it’s a nice, little picturesque city away from most things major. It has the calmness of New Paltz in a European city setting. There’s not much to hate here, if anything at all. If there is anything to hate, I haven’t found it yet. And I don’t think I will.

On Arriving

Arriving in France — to live here rather than just to visit — was a strange sensation for me. We landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport around 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 13. I had lost six hours of my day and was running on less than two. My racing thoughts didn’t allow me to sleep on the plane, so for a solid hour and a half, the characters from “Monsters University” befriended me and eased whatever anxiety I was having. I listened to playlists made for me by my best friend and my boyfriend. The Beatles and Pinegrove were the soundtrack to my flight, and their voices managed to sing me to sleep. But not for long.

Accompanied by my friends Kate and Laura, we got off the plane and immediately tried to find out guide, James, who was an alumni from New Paltz teaching at the school we’d start going to about a week from then. We also met up with two other girls from New Paltz, Suzanne and Tori, and from there we began what would be another long and tiresome journey to finally reach Besançon.

We took a bus from the airport into the heart of Paris and waited at the Gare de Lyon train station for upwards of five hours. The station was an open space with no insulation so it was freezing. We sat there, tried to keep warm and ate some sandwiches from Prêt À Manger (not real French cuisine by any means but it sufficed at the time). At 2:53 p.m. we finally boarded our train to Besançon. We each had to get on separate cars because of our reserved seats, and so I sat alone, listening to music, trying to breathe, trying to calm down, as I anticipated meeting my host mom, Joëlle, along with the other people I would be living with: Laura, a 19-year-old French girl; Ben, a fellow American from North Carolina who had already lived there since September; Ederline, another young, French student; and Alexis, Joelle’s son.

The thought of meeting all of these new people and having to speak French to them made me want to throw up. I didn’t feel like I was ready, although I desperately wanted to be — I was throwing myself into this study abroad experience after all.

When we arrived at the Besançon Gare Viotte, I carried my many bags and happened to recognize Joëlle walking toward me.



We both said each other’s names at the same time. We both smiled and she helped me carry my belongings to her car. I said goodbye to my New Paltz friends for the time being, both nervous and excited to leave them. I would be the only one of us staying with a host family while they all lived in the student dorms.

We arrived at the apartment on Grande Rue, the main street in Besançon, and walked up five flights of stairs. My arms were sore after carrying my 23 pound duffle bag all the way up (I’m weak, okay) and when I walked up the next flight of stairs to my room, I dropped my things to the floor.

Joëlle introduced me to Laura and called us “neighbors,” seeing as we would be living in rooms next door to each other. Laura, with her big green eyes and freckle-covered face intimidated me at first. I hardly understood a word she said. I was embarrassed by merely trying to have a conversation. Being as sweet as she is she smiled anyway and laughed with me. I managed to get the words out in French and told her that I wanted my French to get better. I wanted to understand. “It takes time, it’s just the beginning,” she said.

Then I met Ben, who lugged my 50 pound suitcase up the mighty staircase for me (God bless him). And he spoke to me in French. Being that both our native tongues are English I was a little taken aback by this but we were both here to do the same thing: to learn French — and after a mere six months of being here, his French seemed immaculate to me, although he will say otherwise. I also kind of enjoy the fact that it feels almost natural to talk to another American in French, simply because that’s how we were introduced. It does also help that he’s a fellow English speaker, in case I don’t understand something and he needs to translate or find a different way to explain something to me in French. Oftentimes he’ll play translator for both Laura and I.

That being said, everyone here has been exceptionally patient with me. Though I often still get aggravated with myself at my inability to really say what I want to say in French, I know that the mere trying to and thinking of what I want to say alone helps me, rather than not being able to live with and speak with other French speakers, native or otherwise, at all. Though I was nervous beyond repair before I arrived, I knew I needed to live with a host family. I knew myself and my learning abilities and I knew I’d do better being surrounded by the language throughout the majority of my days.

Like I mentioned in my last post, I am certainly still adjusting. I am adjusting to speaking French more frequently and being away from most of the people I love so much. But everyone here helps — those I live with as well as my friends from New Paltz, who are going through the same transitions as I am.

I’ve been here for about three weeks now and the only way to describe it is as a dream. I feel like I’m living in a daydream most days, in that being here doesn’t really feel real. I feel like if I close my eyes tight enough and open them back up again I’ll wake up at home, whether at my suite in New Paltz or my bed in Bohemia. I walk down the streets just admiring everything around me because like everything else, I am still accustoming myself to my surroundings, the different architecture, the vast amounts of history that lie down every street of Besançon and every inch of France itself. Walking home from school with Kate one day we both agreed that being here is surreal, and it really is one of the best feelings.

Not to mention I’ve certainly accustomed myself to the my legal drinking age and ability to now buy alcohol, along with all the decadent pastries and cuisines that Besançon has to offer (living in the Franche-Comté region of France, I feel that Comté cheese is my life now. It’s truly amazing.).

Though I miss home more some days rather than others, if one thing is for sure it is that I am still relishing every moment I’m here. It’s hard not to. And like I said, it’s practically like living in a daydream.

Below are some pictures of my life here. I hope you enjoy them virtually as much as I do in real life:

citadel vie

The view from the top of the citadel.

My bed - where I've added lights to make myself feel more at home.

My bed – where I’ve added lights to make myself feel more at home.


The walk down my staircase.

The walk down my staircase.

Pastries from a patisserie at the end of my block - (left) un mogador, (right) un pain au chocolat.

Pastries from a patisserie at the end of my block – (left) un mogador, (right) un pain au chocolat.

The view out of our kitchen window.

The view out of our kitchen window.


On Leaving

I boarded AirFrance flight 0007 at approximately 6:50 p.m. on the night of Jan. 12. That day came way faster than I had expected. Or maybe it didn’t. I guess somewhere lingering in the back of my mind I had told myself that the day wouldn’t come so soon, I still had time to be at home with friends and family in my own bed, in a place that I was familiar with.

And then months passed in a time period that felt like mere days. And then I was hugging my friends goodbye and waving goodbye to my parents at the security check at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens with tears swelled up in my eyes.

The funny thing about leaving is you never really understand how fast the day comes when you’re scheduled to leave. It comes around the corner like a bullet and kind of just sweeps you off your feet. It’s a bit unsettling, but also a bit good for you, in my humble opinion.

The entire week or so before I left my home in Bohemia, New York to fly on a jet plane to Paris I felt like I had constant ants in my pants. I found time to spend time with my parents yet I was hardly home. I was trying to see every close friend I could before I knew the day would come where I would have to pack up my belongings and say goodbye for the next few months. I didn’t want to stop moving. I didn’t want to be alone. I knew that as soon as I got on that plane I’d be entering into a culture I barely knew, something unfamiliar to me. And it made me uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I was always excited to leave for France. I started taking French classes my freshman year and immediately loved the language in a way I never experienced when studying Spanish. I loved the culture and the history and the music and the language on its own. Its complexity astounded me and intimidated me and I decided I wanted to continue studying. What I expected to merely count for a GE became my minor. And now that culture is my temporary home.

I knew that studying abroad would be the best experience for me. Getting to live in a different country in a completely alternate culture is the chance of a lifetime. To get to learn a foreign language firsthand is a dream. Or at least it had been my dream. Learning a different language always appealed to me. I was excited to dive right into a new experience, one few people take often. I kept telling myself that studying abroad would be good for me: a different environment, a different language, different food, different people. Everything different.

But I was scared. So absolutely petrified. I cried more times than I’d like to admit at the thought of leaving my best friends and my boyfriend and my family. The thought of having to speak a foreign language I’d only taken for two and a half years taunted me for the last month I was home. Going into the city to get my visa alone gave me anxiety. The thought of being without my entire support system made me sick to my stomach. And for all of those reasons, I had to push myself to leave. As scared as I was and as nervous as I knew I’d be, I had to leave. I had to get over the fear I had of the unknown, the uncomfortable, the things outside of my comfortable little bubble in New York.

That’s what I believe study abroad is for. It’s for students like me and you, reader, who feel a necessity to explore and try new things despite any sort of reluctance. Because although you feel that your human nature will defy you, it actually helps you. Your mind and your body learn to adjust. It just takes time. It’s still taking time. And while that might not have felt okay a few weeks ago, it feels okay now. You adjust to the unknown and befriend it. Suddenly the new world you’re living in isn’t so scary – and you learn new things every single day.

One final note before I leave you for now: if you are thinking about studying abroad but are doubtful for any reason, I push you and advise you to just do it and to just say yes. In my final column of the semester for The New Paltz Oracle, I cited a study from the Institute for the International Education of Students (IIES Abroad) that found that studying abroad served as a catalyst for increased maturity (97 percent), increased self-confidence (96 percent) and had a lasting impact on the students’ world view (95 percent).

Another study I cited from the University of California, Merced, reported that 97 percent of students who studied abroad found employment within 12 months of graduation while only 49 percent of college graduates found employment within the same time period. The same study found that 90 percent of study abroad alumni were accepted to their first and second choice grad schools and 80 percent of these alumni said their abroad experiences allowed them to better adapt to diverse work environments.

So don’t worry about the unknown or what’s going to come next, or maybe even about how you feel you might miss out back home. I felt the same exact way – I still do sometimes – but I know that being in Besançon will only help me now and in the future. And everything at home is waiting for me when I go back.

Next Stop: Paris!

Bonjour Paris!

It took about eight hours to get to Paris. We took the night bus and I don’t think I got any sleep. At one moment, the bus was in a ferry and yet I couldn’t even feel it! I didn’t even think that was possible.

I couldn’t believe I was in Paris as I walked to my first hostel of my long trip. It was the St. Christopher’s Inn and I highly recommend it for anyone traveling to Paris! Unfortunately we were earlier than our check in date, so as a result we got free breakfast from the hostel and a free walking tour of Paris!

Tip #1: Always have back-up plans. You ever know what’s going to happen. 

My friends and I were able to put our luggages in the lockers provided in the hostel before joining the group for the tour.


The free walking tour of Paris was the best decision! I was only in Paris for one day, so I wanted to be able to see all of the city in such a short amount time. I did not only see these well-known places, like the Notre Dame and Louvre, but I got to learn about its history from my tour guide.


Tip #2: Find out what your hostel offers and do it! This can be a once and a life time opportunity, so take chances.

When the tour was over, my friends and I ventured to see the Eiffel Tower up close (it wasn’t included in the tour). It was a long walk, but when we got there, it was breathtaking! I couldn’t believe I was actually sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower. Of course, the first time I see the Eiffel Tower, I’m exhausted and my phone dies.

Tip #3: Make sure your phone is charged or you brought a portable charger. (It’s not important because it’s better to have memories than photos, but still!) 

Although I didn’t get to sleep in the hostel (long story due to poor planning), it was great to experience a day in Paris. I always dreamed of visiting the city of love and I’m glad I had the chance to!

Two small highlights of my day in Paris: I got to try a macaroon for the first time and have a crepe in France!

I also met two Australian women that were so kind and one even paid for my friend and I’s train fare when we didn’t have any.

BUTTTTTT guess what?

I returned to Paris when I left Italy! Although I was walking around Paris with my carry-on, I was glad to have the opportunity to see the city once again.

I was able to visit (and take photos) of the Eiffel Tower and the Arch de Triumph. I was able to enjoy the perfect weather and have a moment to appreciate the Eiffel Tower without taking photos with it or of it.


Although I had fun in Paris, I still have a list of things I still want to do. Hopefully before I return home or later on in life I get the chance to visit such an amazing place again!