05 February 2006

A Year in Euskadi

It is well known that once you come back from abroad, no one really cares about the awesome things you've done and the wonderful sights you've seen. It's probably the hardest part of the reverse culture shock, and the one I struggled with the most.

You learn pretty quickly to bottle up your thoughts and to try to be the person that everyone expects you to be, the one they knew before you left (but who you left, inexorably, in the airport). The only ones who can ever understand are the ones who have gone along with you.

So upon return, you latch onto those few who have traveled and you share your stories. A friend and I have been doing just this, alternating weeks, inflicting our twelve-pound scrapbooks and our mile-long stories on each other. It's emotional; it's rewarding; it's exhausting. Reliving such an integral part of my formative years takes a long time!

This is my story.

I took French in middle and high school. Around sophomore year, I realized that I was good at French, liked it,and wanted to study it more and maybe even make a career out of it. The idealism of sixteen.

Knowing that I planned to major in French in college, and having several older friends do a Rotary year abroad, the next step was natural. I applied, was accepted and went to Biarritz, France three weeks before I turned eighteen.

Biarritz is a seaside resort town, famous for its fashionable history and its surfable waves. This was the first time I ever lived by the ocean, and I believe I'll never be happy far from it anymore.

The Rotary Club prepared me well. All the students from my region got together three times throughout the preceding year, and we did exercises about cultural adaptation, emotional readiness and openness. I know that if I hadn't had the extensive support network of the Rotary Club, I never would have survived that year abroad.

In the next entry, I will relate some of the most memorable stories and moments from that first year abroad.