Aida Marcantonio is finishing up her final semester at Brock where she has been studying French Studies and Mathematics. She has been working as an International Learning Programs Assistant at Brock International Services, and will be pursuing a Masters of Applied Math at the University of Laval next year.
As part of her studies at Brock, Aida did an exchange program in France a year ago. She has taken the time to share her story with us, along with a few photos. As her story shows, studying a second language opens up a whole new world of opportunities!
My friends at home always ask about my exchange- they say tell me your stories, go on, tell me what happened and I lack the words to convey all I have experienced, a way to start to tell them how this experience was second to none, hands down, definitely, ‘complètement’ my favourite part of my life thus far. Yet later, in the middle of a random conversation, something reminds me about ‘that time when’…, and I have to hold my tongue because I don’t want to overwhelm everyone with my stories or come across as pretentious.
I will try to piece together an outline of how the experience affected my personal and academic development.
I unpacked the suitcase that encompassed my life on January 8, 2015 in Chambéry, France and filled in my humble 17 meter square apartment.
When deciding what to pack, I couldn’t bare to leave so many things behind- everything had value and each object was a part of my life back home. Yet when I was packing my luggage to come home-it was exactly the opposite. Almost everything I owned was replaceable.
When it came time, I did not hesitate to throw out most of my possessions to keep under Air Canada’s 23 kilogram weight limit! I had already given up the comforts of home and traveled with no more than a backpack for weeks on end. I learned that I could get by on so little; cold showers, nightly pizza and terrible internet connection became ordinary and acceptable.
I became closer to my friends abroad than I have ever been with any other group of people. We all knew we were only there for one semester so we did everything together. We all wanted to experience everything so whenever invited out, we always answered “oui, pouquoi pas”. The experience of going through culture shock, having new exciting, crazy adventures every day made us so close and I know the next time I buy a ticket for Europe, they’ll be the first people I tell and the people I’ll want alongside me.
My friends taught me about different cultural norms and I learned to think critically and for myself instead of basing my thoughts off of my own cultural biases and my privileged upbringing. For instance, my mother would be displeased to hear that I do not share her aversion for tattoos and piercings! I have changed. I know myself better now and I know that I can think for myself.
I appreciate people with a different look onto life and I search for people that are incredibly different from me because I find them amazing. Who would have thought that one of my best friends in France would be a 5’’2 anarchist Italian girl who hung out with men twice her age, had no regard for personal hygiene and ate an enormous amount of pasta? And who would have thought I would love every minute of our crazy and weird friendship?
This friendship and many more were all because I no longer had a comfort zone. Every day was a go-with-the-flow experience. I felt like I was capable of anything. Trying new things, new habits, new challenges and meeting new people become as addictive as chewing gum.
For six months my life changed at a non-stop pace. The word “routine” was no where to be found. Missed a train? No problem. Airport is not open and we’ll have to sleep out in the cold for three hours? Great I can’t wait to tell this story. The little things that used to stress me out were no longer important.
Now that’s not to say that I was not ever distressed while abroad- in fact there were always moments of ‘distress”, I was in France for goodness sakes. And small town life in France meant that paperwork was never processed on time and administration was not a cinch.
But I wasn’t alone and all the troubles I faced filling out forms, such as the ‘CAF’ application (a nationally run social service that gave students help with housing) was a struggle we all faced. But it became a laughable topic and another source of bonding with people that would understand better than any of my friends or family back home because they were right there with me.
Ninety-six towns visited, 19 countries this year. There is a piece of me left behind in each place, but in reality it is not the places I miss but a combination of memories of being in the right place with the right people.
I know if I were to return right now to any of those places I would be disappointed because I could be in Chambery, France and still miss “it”, it is not the place at all in fact –it is the unity of all the right people in the right time at the right place with me. “It” is a feeling of absolute sublimity; a term I learned in high school art class years ago that I only now understand. “It” is a state of utter awe, of a fleeting moment – “It” is the same thing that impressionist artists, generations of artists years afterward and the development of the camera sought to capture and the same feeling that I had while on exchange.
“It” is sublime, “it” is wonderful and “it”– this wonderful exchange abroad– is a memory that I will never forget or want to forget because I have been changed for the better.