It has been approximately one year, six months, and nine days since I touched down in Paris to spend my summer interning, adventuring, and growing through Klein GO’s Global Internship Program. Since returning to the States, I’ve shared my experience with countless friends, family members, and prospective program participants. Over time, I distilled that summer into simple phrases: “It changed my life,” “It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone,” “It was so beautiful,” “It looks great on my resume.” And it’s easy enough to just leave it at that.
But it’s not that simple.
When you look at our Instagram, you see wide smiles and bright eyes. You see friends huddled in front of famous monuments or magnificent views, seemingly having the time of their lives. I know that’s the impression I tried to give when I was in Paris. But as we all know, the truth isn’t always as glamorous as the photos we share or the stories we craft. And in my case, the truth was more evident in all the things I didn’t say. Things I wish I had heard before I went abroad.
So I am saying them now.
It’s Okay to Be Sad
During my first few weeks in Paris, I felt as though I was suffering from emotional jet lag. We learned about culture shock during our pre-departure orientation, so I felt as though I was prepared for some negative emotions as I became accustomed to life in France. However, I quickly began to feel as though my disenchantment meant that there was something wrong with me. After all, I was in the City of Light! Why did I feel so dark? The passing of a teammate, the poorly-timed reading of a book about the end of the world, and general malaise compounded to cast a strange somberness over the summer. Even as I tried to put on a carefree persona for my blog posts and calls home, I felt as though my sadness was a sort of failure on my part.
But as the summer wore on, I found ways to make the most of my experience even when I couldn’t shake the clouds of sadness. The most beneficial way I found to address my feelings was through acceptance. Once I stopped worrying about how I “should” feel, I was able to embrace the full range of emotion that accompanied my experience– everything from sorrow, fear, and frustration to joy, pride, and awe. I also found journaling to be a helpful way to process my emotions throughout my experience. Keeping a journal allowed me to acknowledge my feelings without ruminating, but it’s also a great way to make sure you remember special moments from your time away! Looking back, I am equally grateful for the trying times and low moments as I am for the happy memories from that summer, because those lows helped me grow more than two months of bliss ever could.
It’s Okay to Miss Home
I have always considered myself to be an independent, adventurous person. I had never felt homesick throughout my semesters at Temple, so I was completely blindsided when I began missing home. It manifested itself in strange ways. I found myself longing for the woods I played in as a child, despite having spent the past two years surrounded by concrete at Temple. I missed overhearing loud arguments on the subway and being able to follow along. I dreamed of Wawa runs and cheap pizza. Of course I missed my friends, my family, and my partner. But in many ways, it was all of the small aspects of my American life that I missed the most.
Just as I had to accept my sadness, I also had to let go of the notion that homesickness is “childish” or a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a very normal part of culture shock, even for the most adventurous individuals. Luckily, I was able to find pieces of home in my interactions with other people. After speaking to my host mother about my love of wild spaces and plants, she gave me a budding butterfly bush to keep on my windowsill. I shared meaningful moments with strangers on the metro and in the streets that helped me feel at ease despite the language barrier. I became close friends with the other girls from Temple and fell in love with Paris through all of our picnics by the Seine, nightlife misadventures, and late night cafe conversations. Even as I became more comfortable in Paris, there were still moments that I longed to return to Philly. But by the time I left France, it truly did feel like a second home.
It’s Okay to Be Alone
Before my summer in Paris, I held a strange double standard in my mind when it came to travel. I would glorify stories of people picking up and going on adventures all by themselves, but felt troubled by the thought of exploring France alone. I felt the pressure of an unspoken expectation that solo adventures should only last as long as it takes to find a new squad abroad. After all, why take a day trip alone when you have friends to take with you? I was so fortunate to become close with four amazing ladies from Temple, but I began to fight an internal voice that insisted that I wouldn’t have any fun if I chose to go off on my own.
Of course, I proved myself wrong. One of my favorite days that summer was spent alone, hiking in the beautiful forests of Fontainebleau. Another exciting weekend was spent exploring the medieval town of Provins all by myself. While in Paris, I took myself on dinner dates, explored flea markets, and took in the artwork of some of my favorite painters on my own. My solitary adventures helped me get over my fear of being alone and showed me that I like hanging out with myself much more than I once thought.
It’s Okay to Slow Down
Participating in a summer program was a great option for me because it allowed me to gain valuable international experience without sacrificing the jobs and club positions I held on campus. However, given that the Global Internship Program was half the length of a semester program, I felt the pressure of my limited time in Paris. My full-time work schedule and limited budget made it harder to do everything on my summer bucket list. My mind insisted that I had to cover every inch of the city in those eight weeks, and I felt myself becoming more stressed as the weeks slipped by. I felt as though every moment of rest was a moment wasted.
It quickly became clear to me that I could not do everything, and even if I could, I would not be happy doing it. As humans, we all need moments of rest. We shouldn’t put self care on hold just because we are in a new city. We need to allow ourselves to slow down and indulge in activities that we find refreshing, even if that means adjusting our plans. For me, walking was my way of slowing down. Instead of rushing home on the metro after work or dashing between museums on the tram, I let myself take in Paris on foot. Some days, I had a destination in mind. Other times, I wandered aimlessly, excited to see where my feet would take me. Naturally, as I boarded my flight to the United States, I felt a twinge of regret at the thought of the things I never got to do while in Paris. However, looking back on the experience now, I hardly remember those regrets. What do I remember? All of the hidden gems that I never would have discovered if I stuck to an itinerary.
At the end of the day, no two experiences will be the same– and no experience is as perfect as it may seem. For me, the imperfection of my experience is what made it so worthwhile. But don’t take my word for it… your own authentic, life-changing, perfectly imperfect adventure is waiting.