“I don’t want to go.”
Anyone who knows me was shocked to hear me utter those words. I’ve been dreaming about traveling for as long as I can remember. Going from a small suburban town to the BC bubble, I couldn’t wait the chance to “get out.” Specifically, France has always been the object of my affections. Yet, as the June 1 departure date for my summer abroad course in Bordeaux, France drew nearer, I felt as though I were desperately trying to grab onto time. If my parents would have allowed it, I would have backed out of the trip and hid in Logan Airport for the three weeks instead.
Nothing could calm my fears of flying, making friends, and managing both coursework and tourism. Above all, I was terrified of admitting if I didn’t have a good time. I’d been dreaming of my first international experience for a decade. How could it live up to the expectations accumulated throughout half of my life?
The experience wasn’t perfect. Not even close. I sobbed on the first flight over and the rest was far from glamorous. But the value of an abroad experience doesn’t come from a fancy hotel, nice souvenirs, or even the beautiful sights. It is the realization of the simultaneously subtle and astronomical differences between our culture and theirs, the small ways with high value that could never enter your consciousness from reading a textbook.
There are hundreds of ways French life is different from ours, but one of the most important was the way they saw time. I have always believed that time is money and anyone who disagrees is simply failing to recognize it; though people may not like it, time is the ultimate currency. You can use it to watch TV or save lives in the ER, but you never know when you’ll run out.
As I watched French people wander aimlessly through public parks and take three hours to eat dinner, I simply assumed their behavior indicated the same thing as their 35-hour workweeks. They disliked the reality of time and chose not to use it wisely. Over the three weeks, however, what became very clear is that they know time is money. They understand this perhaps better than we do and therefore choose to spend it differently. Rather than spend all day in the rat race, they appreciate the now.
This isn’t groundbreaking. It’s something you’ve surely heard before. Still, the majority of us at Boston College fill our iCals with lunch dates, professors’ office hours, the Plex, leadership positions, club meetings, volunteer work, homework, and Agape Latte. We resolve to focus, to embrace the present and live in the moment, but I, at least, still make a to-do list every day that maps out every second between 8:00 AM and midnight.
Why bother going to school in Boston if, in the past two years, I haven’t spent more than two minutes in the Boston Common? I’ve only driven past the Charles River and I cut every MFA visit short because of a meeting, project, or some “obligation.”
So, whatever experience I had is okay. The food was good, the wine better. My French has finally been put to use and I got to walk along unbelievable architecture. I will always treasure the view atop the Dune du Pyla and appreciate our lack of cobblestone while wearing heels a bit more. Still, the most valuable part of going abroad was the understanding that I am not trapped, that there is always another perspective.