When I said goodbye to my parents and friends 5 weeks ago, it was with the expectation that I would see them again. There were no pangs of homesickness, hardly any tears, and no desire to stay.
Now, 5 weeks later, I have said goodbye to people that I will never see again. I’ve said goodbye to the Irish boys that left a week after I arrived, the little Spanish boys that left a week before I did, the Swedish and Spanish boy that were staying in Biarritz when I left. They were all people that I shared a house with, people I ate dinner with. I was closer with some than others, but they were all a huge part of my experience abroad. I’ve said bye to the first group of two-week students. These were formal goodbyes, with pictures and number-exchanges and dozens of hugs. They live all over the country, from Atlanta to Chicago to New York City to Boston. Some of them, I’ll see again, others will just be followers on my Instagram and phantom contacts in my phone. I said goodbye to a dozen girls at the Paris airport, all of us a little stressed from our impending flights. I’ve said bye to the SPI students who were staying in Biarritz, one of my best friends in the program included. She lives in California, our relationship confined to Snapchat and FaceTime and texting until one of us happens to visit the other side of the country. I’ve said bye to my roommate and other best friend in the program. I cried when she left, even though she lives a five hour drive from me.
I’ve said by to my program directors, one of whom I got really close with. Another person I won’t see again.
I said au revoir to my host family. My host mom Hermine, and my host dad Alex promised me a bed and food and hospitality the next time I am in Biarritz, told me to call them the next time I am in France. My little host sister Uma gave me a drawing. I don’t know if I am going to return to Biarritz in the near future, or even France. I will never be able to give Uma a drawing in return.
I bade farewell to Biarritz, the town that I love with all my heart. I said bye to the beaches, the people I met on those beaches, the stores, the shopkeepers, the cobblestones outside the doors, my apartment, my school, the students, the teachers, the cat that lived on the corner and would give me the stink eye if I got a little too close. People I met in instances, places I became acquainted with over shopping trips or afternoons in the sun.
I have never been so sad to leave somewhere in my life. There were many, many tears-and there continue to be. I’m already homesick, even though this place was only my home for a month. The only thing I want to do in the world is stay, and that’s the only thing that I can’t do.
My experience abroad has changed me, and not only in the people that I’ve met and the places that I have been. I have the confidence to go up to strangers and initiate conversation, the charge to navigate a foreign bus system without incident, even the trivial ability to identify any aspect of the Basque culture. I am now a speaker of two languages; I will never be the girl who “took French in high school.” I now have a home in two countries. And I am now in possession of the skills that will push me into a future that will undoubtedly and intricately involve France. I am a different person because I had to say those goodbyes, and although they were the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life, they were entirely worth it.