The End of It All — August 7, 2015

The End of It All

“You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That’s the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

After my trip to France and Belgium, it was time for me to return to the U.S. There wasn’t much sadness the day of because, like I stated before, the Charles du Gaulle airport is a death trap. It took me almost 3 hours to get to my gate from the train, that dropped me off inside the airport. But once I got onboard, I was able to breathe and write my last journal entry of the trip.

I mentioned in my last few posts that I was struggling to return to the States. There are a few reasons for that. The first of those being that I love Europe. It is such a wonderful place, filled with so many wonderful people and history. I was simply sad to go. As a historian, I find that I am most content when I am surrounded by history and living in Indiana doesn’t do that for me.

Another reason for my struggle was my personality. I firmly believe that people spend their whole lives discovering who they are. They have a good baseline by the time they are adults, but there are events throughout your life that change you, open new doors to your personality, shall we say. This trip was one of those new doors for me. I have found that since I’ve been back, I act and think differently. I so desire to have the Scottish hospitality and kindness, as well as general patience and strong silence. Don’t get my wrong, Scottish people can be loud and rambunctious but as a whole, they have a quietness about them. The whole of Europe is like that. They just don’t see the point in yelling to communicate their points and opinions, like Americans. They just have a lower volume in general and I like that. I like that there is no need to be loud just for the purpose of being louder than another person.

My mindset about flexibility has also been altered by this trip. Having traveled to 6 countries and consequently through 6 international airports, not including the ones in my own country, I have discovered that needing to know the plan all the time and being stressed about the plan not being executed well is way more effort than it’s worth. My plans rarely worked smoothly this summer. My arriving flight into Edinburgh was 40 minutes early, I didn’t know what my boss looked like, and I was exhausted and hungry. Going to Ireland required a ridiculously early flight there and back. The flight to London from Inverness, I had to get out of line and check a bag unexpectedly. Flying to France was just a whole day of disasters. I got lost in the Paris Nord station, then got lost in the Paris St. Lazare station, couldn’t get my ticket printed and missed my train to Caen. Then I couldn’t connect to wifi to tell the people I was staying with that I was going to be late. When I did, I told them the wrong time. This all happened while carrying a 35lb backpack and a large duffle bag. Returning to the U.S., I waited for my terminal to be posted for over an hour, had to take a tram to my terminal, waited in line for a hour to check my bag and then stood in security for a hour. To be able to function in these kind of environments, I had to be willing to be flexible and let go of my controlling attitude.

Letting go of my intense desire for control was a hard thing for me. I have changed a lot since I was in high school but the thing I just haven’t been able to let go of was the control. I needed to know the plan for every day and every event that happened. My mom used to say “we need a plan because Rachel needs to know the plan”. And she was right. I just needed to know that we had some idea of what we were doing as a way of controlling what I could in my life. That need went out the window my first week in Scotland. It’s hard to control things when you have no car, you live in a valley, you don’t know anyone, and you’re 3000 miles from anything familiar. You just have to be willing to go with the flow. My mom always says (she’s a wise woman, can’t you tell?)  “There are very few hills worth dying on” and always knowing the plan and always sticking to the plan isn’t one of them. Had I created a plan and stuck strictly to it, I would have missed out on so many things during this trip. Plans are good and I still like to have a schedule, but the overpowering need to follow it to the letter of the law no longer exists and I think that has freed me up to discover, explore, and appreciate more things because I’m not so focused on planning and following.

I have done serious soul-searching about these personality changes and I’ve decided I like them. I was really afraid that when I returned to the States, my family and friends would expect me to be the same person and would be completely against the changes. But I got lucky. My family understand and even like the changes. They see how this trip and the independence it required of me has changed me into the personal I firmly believe I was always supposed to be, and they love that.

As this is probably my last blog post, because my trip has come to an end, I want to say thank you. Thank you for supporting me in this endeavor. Thank you for supporting my family. Thank you for the prayers and thoughts and encouraging posts. Thank you for enjoying this trip with me and understanding that while you will never appreciate it like I do, you appreciated the beauty of the trip and what it means to me. I am a changed woman. A woman who is confident in her singleness and ability to travel and explore alone. A woman who finally sees the beauty in differences and recognizes the small things for what they are. A woman who is more aware of her world and more understanding of exchange students and foreigners and their potential struggles. I am a woman with a deep love for Scotland and everything it represents. I am finally a woman who is truly comfortable in her own skin for the first time in her life. I am proud of what I did. I’m proud of the mark I left on New Lanark and the mark New Lanark left on me. I am proud of how I represented my family, myself, and my university. I will carry this experience close to my heart for the rest of my life. It sounds quite dramatic but I honestly believe that I have found my life direction. I aim to return to Scotland and hopefully study for my Ph.D at the University of Glasgow.

So to all of you who joined me on this adventure, thank you for the bottom of my heart. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

“She who is brave is free”

-Rachel

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Beautiful France — August 4, 2015

Beautiful France

Sorry it’s taken me so long to post this. I’ve been going nonstop for weeks and I’ve finally got to a place where I have time to post this.My week in France was amazing! I visited the cities of Caen, Lille, and Paris while I was there and it was such a unique opportunity for me to visit with my old friends, make new ones, and practice my French, which is so much harder than I thought.

I’ll be the first to say that I loathe the Charles de Gaulle airport. It’s like a Hunger Games/Maze Runner situation, but you have no weapons and no training and you’re just trying not to die. It’s horribly confusing, exhausting, and there are no signs, and mind you, that’s coming from someone who reads and speaks BOTH English and French.

Once you get over that, France is amazing. I had a bit of trouble adjusting, for several reasons. It’s hard to switch languages so quickly and without much mental preparation. I missed my first train out of Paris into Caen and I didn’t have a way to contact the people that I was staying with. The stress of traveling alone in foreign countries for 2 months finally got to me. My journey was very different from studying abroad. I didn’t really have a permanent place to lay my head. My longest stay in a place was 6 weeks. Traveling is exhausting and I didn’t have much time to acclimate to a country that didn’t speak English.

Another reason for my trouble was my sadness. My aunt had been with me for my week in London but she had just left and I was leaving the UK finally. I was able to keep my feelings about leaving Lanark at bay while I was with her but in France, I was along with my thoughts and feelings and that was hard.

Caen, however, was amazing. There’s a big castle in the middle of the city and the couple I was staying with were so kind. They took me into downtown and then they took me to the Normandy beach for dinner. I had the most wonderful time and they were unbelievably generous and hospitable.

When I got to Lille, my dear friend, Pauline welcomed me into her home and I had so much fun. She had to work my first two days so I just wandered around Lille for 2 days and sat at a fountain in the middle of town and people watched. It was wonderful to have the peace and work through my emotions.

That weekend, Pauline and I went to Paris. We walked up the Eiffel Tour, taking the stairs (mostly by accident. We didn’t know which line we were in). We also saw Notre Dame, The Invalid, Grand Palais, Champ-Élysées, Moulin Rouge, Musee du Louvre, and Montmarte. It was a ridiculously packed weekend but it completely exceeded my expectations.

Back in Lille, we relaxed, ate dinner with her precious parents and brother, all of who reminded me of my own family, and visited Belgium, which I wasn’t expecting. We drove across the border into Brugge, Belgium. Brugge is in the Flemish part of Belgium so none of us could understand what the people were saying. But the buildings were magnificent. They looked like they were straight out of a travel magazine. I was incredibly fortunate to get to visit.

My last night, when I told them all goodbye, I lost my steely control over my emotions and sobbed like a child. Being with them reminded me that I did miss my family. But more than that, it signaled the end of my adventures and that by itself was enough to make me feel crushed.

France was a whole different experience; it made me appreciate exchange students from countries that don’t speak English. My brain was exhausted when I got back. Speaking French and thinking in French was so tiring but I worked hard and learned a lot.

Until next time

-R

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