Thursday, September 3, 2015

Happy One Year in Paris

I remember looking out the tiny American Airlines window, seeing the runway at CDG, and thinking, That's foreign ground. And I'm a foreigner now. I was in such unchartered territory, I didn't even know what I was feeling. But it was big, whatever it was. And now I know it was the beautiful wonderment of a person's first exposure to the world, unique to first time travelers and children. Packing my bags (well, my one suitcase) and moving to Paris for a year was the craziest, best thing I have ever done. And a year later, I still find myself getting lost in the streets and giggling to myself: I can't believe I live here.

Living in Paris is one of this bucketlist items that was way way out on the "will never happen but nice to think about" categories. Like owning a pet elephant. Or marrying Chris Pine. It just doesn't happen to us normal people who aren't graced enough to play characters in best-selling novels. And here I stand at the end of the year, still a little mystified that it happened to me.

I've spent this last week wandering the streets I now know so well, reading Paris to the Moon about another American expat's affair with Paris, and trying to journal out some sort of "what I learned from my year abroad" or "my favorite memories of Paris" summary of the year. How do you summarize a year like this? 

I recently found and read through my journal from a year ago, as I was preparing to make this big leap. The goodbye parties and final traditions and waving goodbye to my parents at the airport. Anyone moving abroad faces natural fears about speaking a new language or finding friends. But my biggest fears during this transition wasn't about those external things; it was an internal battle for self. Who will I become? I wondered. Will I even like myself a year from now? Will I recognize her? Reading those fears scribbled out from the sleepless night before my flight, I want to wrap my arms around that scared, naive girl and whisper, "It's still me, Ruth. You are gonna be alright. And this will be the best year of your life yet."

There are ways I have changed enormously since I have arrived here. Politics and world views that have taken a half-step to the left or scuttled to the right or just laid down and given up, exhausted. There are also the not-so-obvious changes I will discover over time as I reacclimate to American culture. Little ways of doing things I no longer see the point of, or a longing to taste French home cooking one more time, or realizing one morning I have completely forgotten something wonderfully convenient in the State that didn't exist in France. I want to tell myself, "Yes you have changed in ways you would never have dreamed. You have stretched your wings and shocked yourself by how far they carried you. You are not the same. But you are truer now than you've ever been." Living in a new country unlocks parts of you that you never would have otherwise known were there, let alone how to unlock.

I'm beginning to pack my bags. The new au pair will be here next week, and tables will turn as I train her to be me. I am making my last visits to my favorite places, eating one last one of my favorite dishes. And of course the fear is there. I worry about going back, the culture shock, the people shock. This year has already brought many surprises to my relationships, ones I didn't expect to follow me to France, others I can't believe finally let me go. I don't have a car or a bed or a job. It's blank slate once again. And then also not. I'm taking the person I've become this year with me.

That's why I am not so worried about heading home. Because after you live in Paris, you begin to believe that the adventure doesn't end here, that there is even more beauty out there to discover, even more countries waiting to unlock hidden gardens of my soul. And maybe, just maybe... A date with Chris Pine ending with a ride on my pet elephant. We are made to live big beautiful lives my friends. Go live them.

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