Exactly seven hours from the moment I began writing this sentence, my plane will start its journey across the Alps. It will deposit me in Munich and jet off to who-knows-where, leaving me to navigate a German airport and find my way to the next plane to Philadelphia. That's all well and good; the only part I can't quite fathom is that it won't be coming back for me any time soon.
It seems so recently that I made this journey in reverse: one hundred six days ago. Somehow the time remaining dropped to two months, five weeks, days, hours. I'm excited, sure, and I'm as prepared as I'm going to get (minus the odds and ends and scarves that have yet to be shoved in my bags), but I still can't quite believe I'm leaving.
The reality of departure started to hit me at the end of a stressful finals week, when the AUCP students, staff, and professors gathered for celebratory champagne and Secret Santa. This was definitely my worst overall final exam performance yet, but I'd just finished absolutely nailing the translation final, the last of the week, and I was elated. I was done.
As I looked around the café where I'd spent so many lunch hours, it occurred to me just how much these people toasting each other and swapping gifts were part of my life for the past 106 days, and just how much I'll feel their absence when I part ways with the last of them in Philadelphia tomorrow. This goes for everyone, not just my fellow students--watering pot that I am, I've done my share of crying over goodbyes in the last couple of days, but the first time I teared up was on parting ways with my theater professor.
In an attempt to cheer me up about my departure from Oberlin at the end of the summer, a friend insisted, "Just think of the people you're going to meet." I thought I understood him then, but I never envisioned myself becoming this attached to my professors, my American classmates, and my French family. All of them have made an impression on me that's not going to fade any time soon.
My professors--while I liked all of them, Francesca Manzari and Jean-Claude Azoulay stand out in my mind. In Francesca's case, this is mostly because translation was by far my favorite course this semester. Jean-Claude Azoulay, on the other hand, is that rare professor who seizes my attention and never lets it go, without my ever quite understanding why. My best guess is that it's a combination of the charisma of an actor and the linguistic prowess of a translator. Both of these professors have left me with a new drive to actually pursue a career in translation, which has always seemed like something of a pipe dream. It helps, of course, that Francesca flat-out told me that should I ever find myself in need of a job, I could always be a translator.
My classmates--there was an incredible solidarity among us this semester, and I would count everyone as a friend, but there are certain people who are particularly important. First on the list, of course, is the Corsica crew. I'm going to miss them terribly, as well as the ever-encouraging cries of "Mega...SMERALDA!" and even all the good-natured mockery.
My host family--I could not have been placed with a better one. No elaboration necessary. My host sister might as well be my real little sister, and it's her above all that I'm going to miss. She's even more upset about my departure--for days now, she has hugged me every chance she's gotten and asked why I'm abandoning her. When I was stressed out over finals, she drew me a card wishing me a "bone exam'" (bon examen, Ève-style). As we were brushing our teeth together for the last time tonight, she actually cried because I'm leaving, and it was all I could do to keep it together myself.
This semester has been one interminable whirlwind. One hundred six days both dragged and flew by. I thought I was prepared to leave Aix-en-Provence, but as my departure draws nearer and nearer, I am more and more aware that I am not at all ready. There's too much to leave behind, and too much I haven't experienced. Too many restaurants I haven't tried, too many little roads I've never ventured down, too many French people to whom I've never spoken.
"An utterly foreign experience." That's how I phrased it back in September. I was going to embrace my insecurity, speak French, eat, explore, and belong. All goals accomplished, to varying degrees. All satisfactory, but never complete. I have no illusions--one hundred six days is simply not enough.
But maybe that's the whole point.