Rendre Grâce

“Erin, you need to Elle Woods yourself.”

“What, you mean montage?” I laughed through my tears.

“Yes. Take the bunny suit off, buy yourself a new Mac and get to work.” ~Advice from my big sister Leenie.

I sat on my bed and dried my tears. Wiping away the crumbs from the baguette I ate whole, I contemplated my sister’s advice. It had been a bad two weeks, and I had become a prime example of Murphy’s law. From getting pick pocketed to locking myself out to loosing my iPhone in a cab to it felt like I was doing everything wrong.  In addition to these material losses, some old emotional wounds that had just started to heal were ripped back open. I was feeling lonely and defeated, but Leenie was right. I needed to take my bunny suit off and pull myself together.

When I first arrived in Paris, I was warned that November is the hardest month. The days become short, grey and rainy. My French is progressing, but not as fast as I’d like. I’ve realized that the friends I made in the first week are not nesecarily going to be my friends for the duration of my stay in France. Things like boulangeries, scooters and the Eiffel Tower are commonplace, and it no longer feels like a vacation. Everyday obligations like bills and work are compounded with language barriers and homesickness. It will be months before I can hug my sisters or have a drink with my best friend.  To top it all off, loosing my phone left me feeling more isolated than ever.

These sound like superficial setbacks, but to me all this disorder was a symptom of a larger issue. Its part bad luck, and part internal chaos manifesting itself and demanding attention. I was starting to realize that I arrived in Paris with more baggage than just my suitcase and backpack. I carried with me a lot of pain, resentment and disappointment and I was dragging it around, unpacked.  Some of my problems quite literally followed me to Paris. All of this quiet and self-reflection has brought some major issues to light, and now I have the time and space to confront them.

I’ve been reluctant to write about my first world problems like homesickness, lingering heartbreak or loosing my phone for fear of sounding ungrateful. There are plenty of people who would love for their biggest problem to be that they are IN PARIS, but Paris isn’t the problem. Living abroad creates intense highs and lows. What you see on social media is true, but its all the fun parts with the loneliness cropped out. Despite how my instagram looks, it’s not all La Vie en Rose. From now on I won’t be afraid to write about challenging things, because it’s a necessary part of the journey. Pain can be useful, it tells you were you need attention and healing. It can also illuminate that which is wonderful in your life.

So today in honor of Thanksgiving, I am most grateful for the challenges of living abroad. I can’t be with my family, but I can be grateful for my amazing host family who have welcomed me so warmly into their lives.  I won’t see my life-long friends,  but I can give thanks for the small army of Au Pairs I belong to. Brilliant, witty, brave girls from around the world I am so happy to share this experience with. I am thankful for the knowledge that I can do perfectly well without a phone for several weeks. I am grateful for every stilted conversation I struggle through in broken French, because I am challenging myself and improving every day. I am grateful for all the warm wishes and messages from home, reminding me that I am loved from an ocean away. Happy Thanksgiving!

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