When I first arrived in Lille, I came with a suitcase, a backpack, and an eye towards the unknown. Luckily, I’d brought along a bedsheet, but had to use sweaters and sweatpants and both blankets and pillows. I knew no one and had no idea where or how to get food, much less anything else I needed to live in a city for months.
Then time happened. I met one person, then tons. I bought the essentials, then was able to spread out. I began building my mental map of the city and meeting and making friends at a clip that rivaled freshman year of college.
Experiences abroad are supposed to be life changing, they’re supposed to challenge and test, to reformulate and reaffirm. I don’t want to be that person who comes back from a study abroad trip singing the praises about how different everything is and how different I am and how life-changing the entire experience was.
But some things are different. For four months, I lived the life of a lillois student. During that time I saw amazing and terrible sights firsthand as the world kept on revolving. During that time, I had the honor of making friends and acquaintances from around the world and we were able to share each others’ culture, language, and get into insane antics regularly.
One of the first things to note is that everyone has similar goals and experiences–and how ignorant many of us are about others. Questions of “OH MY GAWD. YOU HAVE IPHONES IN _______!?” were depressingly more common than they should have been. But towards the end, most of us just melded.
With IESEG being such an international campus, we worked with multiple nationalities daily just to finish class assignments, not to mention longer-term projects.
The big takeaway here is that we all operated off of kindness. It didn’t matter who was from where as long as there was that mutual trade that helped us all grow.
This one, I can attest was pretty much only in my group. Living were I did, I was exposed to nationalities that spoke the languages that I did with the end result being entire conversations where I remember the topic but not the language it was held in.
When everyone in the group speaks English, is learning French, and understands some variant of Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and German, language stops being just a communication tool and morphs into a form of expression–with the choice of language carrying much more social and personal meaning than in a monolingual society.
- I always knew that language was a beautiful thing, but after spending some time in Lille, I have an even larger appreciation for language and communication–and an ever-increasing respect for those starting the process of learning a language.
Increasingly Lillois, Increasingly French
Spending an extended time abroad includes facing the culture and life of that country firsthand. From here, there are two ways to adapt
- Embrace it fully, and jump in balls to the wall
- Delay, and try to force others to adapt to your customs which will ultimately leave you
As foreign students, we’re odd ones out, and we’re the ones who must learn to change our habits and ways to both smooth out our stay and reduce headache. That transformation happened–and the only bummer is that we had to leave just as we were adapting to live under the French banner.
Back at home, the reverse culture shock is hitting, and we now have to reconcile who we became with who we’re expected to be and who we know we are post-experience. But asking anyone would produce the same answer: we wouldn’t change it for the world.
One of the best lessons from this whole thing is that we can. From arrival to departure, it was up to us to deal with the language and the stores and the people and the bureaucracy.
If we miss a flight or a train, it was up to us to deal with it–which is something that doesn’t happen much anymore in modern american society.
During one side trip to Paris, I left my girlfriend’s early in the morning and hopped on metro line 5 north to Gare du Nord to catch my TGV from Paris back to Lille for an 8am class. Due to the attacks that had happened in Paris, the Oberkampf stop was closed. As they were shuffling traffic around the delays and stops, my train just sat. And sat. And sat.
Finally, I was able to make it to the Gare du Nord metro station, bounded up the escalator in time to see my TGV leaving the platform.
That’s it. No safety cushion and no one to bitch at but myself. The only thing left to do was to head to the SNCF Boutique to buy a ticket on the next train to Lille. I had to bite that 64€ bullet all by my lonesome.
A whole new world
But it’s not all accidents and hard lessons to learn, one of the big attractions of the European Union and of Lille is the ease of travel to other major European cities.
Just in one trip, I went to:
Getting around is just so much easier between Ryanair, the bus lines, and Blah Blah Car that transportation for the Berlin trip cost a total of 40€.
Lille est Paris
National tragedies are a tragic part of the integration process–and are a part that don’t always happen. But the Paris attacks students abroad in Lille just as strongly as it did to the French students who’ve lived there all their lives.
The morning after the attacks, we all sat around the breakfast table just working through all that happened–dealing with conjecture and fact with French and foreign students together as one in the tragedy.
In the face of fear and senseless tragedy, the largest truth of all floated up:
Origin is irrelevant. Differences lie at the heart of so many of our interpersonal conflicts. But when we truly stop to look at what those differences are and what they mean, we can find so many more points of similarity that we can use to build that we can do points of differences.
Long story short, regardless of who you are and where you are, everyone deserves respect.
Un énorme merci
Sitting at home typing on these keys, it’s hard at times to remember that everything I went through actually happened. The cobblestone streets of Vieux Lille actually did house me for four months, and the people I met while abroad are real.
Those people made such a huge impact on my life, and for that I thank them. Lille gave me the opportunity to find and meet my capable, beautiful girlfriend; it gave me the chance to make friends–and best friends with people who would have been impossible to meet were it not for a tiny city in Nord-Pas-de-Calais.
Now, we have to plug ourselves back into our old lives with out old friends. But to each and every one of you I met abroad, to each and ever person who followed my Lille posts, to everyone I ever met and everyone whose ever read any post on Why Mondays Are Cool: as life continues, so do our relationships.
You all made such an enormous impact on me, as you continue to do so. There’s a saying in German: “Man trifft sich zweimal im Leben,” which translates to “People will always meet twice in life.”
Goodbye is never so.
For some, for now, it’s a see you later.
For othes, it’s a see you next year.
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