I cannot believe that I have already been in Aix-en-Provence for almost a month! At times, it feels like I just stepped off the plane and got into the tiny, orange Citroen waiting for me outside of the Marseille Airport. Other times, I feel as though I have lived here for months – I have my routine, I am making friends, and I even know a few store owners in town!
However, it was not an easy road for me to achieve the comfort level and joy I have today.
The first three days after I arrived in Aix may have been the hardest three days of my life. The homesickness, anxiety, and confusion I felt were so powerful and at times, they were completely debilitating. At the time, I wanted to go home more than anything in the world.
I only say this because I promised to be totally honest in my blogs. I am not trying to deter future study abroad students, and I certainly do not want anyone to think that Aix isn’t a wonderful place to live. I just want to highlight the fact that if you are not mentally prepared enough to leave your home, your family, and your life as you know it and being again somewhere completely foreign, it will hit you like a ton of bricks… and boy does that hurt.
However, I have discovered that the key is to take it one day at a time. After the first three days, things really started to turn around for me. The Institute for American Universities (IAU) was so supportive, empathetic, informative and helpful. They understood exactly what I was enduring, and they could assure me that I was going to be OK. (Which reminds me, if you are planning to go to IAU, I highly recommend participating in the Early Start Program. It presents you with an opportunity to learn about the school, the city, and to explore the surrounding towns… it also happens to be a great time to get your homesick/shock-induced meltdowns out and over with before classes begin! Wahoo!!)
As a group, the Early Start Program took us to the Mediterranean Sea, to Chateau du Seuil (a winery), to a cooking class, to the city of Avignon, to the city of Beau de Provence, on a hike to Lac Zola, and to the wonderful food and clothing market on the Cours Mirabeau in Aix’s city center. In retrospect, the week and a half after we arrived in Aix could not have been choreographed any better. All of the activities served as a welcomed distraction from the slew of emotions I was experiencing, and by the end of the week, I felt like myself again. Additionally, I was eager to get started with classes and begin establishing a routine! Everyday got a little easier, I felt less and less overwhelmed, and I could feel my excitement for this incredible opportunity building up inside of me.
As of today, I am writing you from a small café in the city center. I have a hot lemon lavender tea, a freshly baked baguette, fresh raspberry jam from the market, and the sun is shining on my face. I am SO happy!
What a whirlwind of emotions, right?! But what is the good without some bad? I’m a firm believer that there is balance in everything, and that there is something beneficial to take away from both the happy and the sad times. I have learned a lot about myself, how to have patience, how to endure the hard times, how to lean on the people that you love, and how to live and learn without giving up and going home.
One last (unrelated) thing. THIS TOWN HAS EYES. Literally! There are plastic googly eyes all over the city on signs, posters, and even the trees! I don’t know if you knew that the French had this kind of humor, but I am here to report that they do! While this succeeds to makes me smile everyday on my walk to and from school, it also reminds me to be observant – to keep my head up, my eyes open and to be present in the moment.
Until next time!