In the summer of 2008, I changed.
Straying from my comfortable life in Orange County, I ventured to Aix-en-Provence, France to take part in a cultural immersion program with twenty other American students.
Four weeks: an intimidating group of strangers, a captivating city, and an unquenchable thirst for attaining new perspectives.
This group was comprised of an assortment of the most unique characters I had ever encountered. Some came from rural lifestyles, hailing from the farmlands of Pennsylvania. Others exuded sharp style and dynamic confidence. They must be from the Upper East Side, I thought. I was right. Then there was me. The southern California girl – the girl with the tan, as they began to refer to me as – who was the sole representative of the West Coast. Meeting people so different than me was a daunting concept…when’s the next flight home?
In hindsight, I laugh at my initial reaction. Yes, they were different than I was…so what? Whoever said ‘variety is the spice of life’ knew what they were talking about. As the weeks passed, I learned to appreciate the dissimilarity between my life and the lives of the others. I wasn’t the Fifth Avenue native that exuded excessive street smarts and stunning attire…no, that was my roommate. Some of my closest friends originated from the program because I became willing to adopt atypical viewpoints and accept people beyond the superficial, not by their clothes or where they lived.
Lesson learned, number one: I can relate to anyone, regardless of background or the foreign situation in which I have been placed.
The second (and possibly most important) of the things I learned in Aix is that Nutella – the heavenly mixture of chocolate and hazelnut that is a staple among French natives – goes with everything. Yes, everything. Baguette, bananas, carrots – you name it, we tried it. When I came home, I had a difficult time readjusting to life without Nutella. I managed…barely.
Along with frequenting the local supermarchÃ© for our routine Nutella fix, I spent much of my time exploring the city. The people, the shops, the food; everything was appreciably different from the life I lead at home. Assimilating into the culture and lifestyle of the French seemed a testing feat upon first arriving– Americans are forever in a rush to complete our numerous tasks, the French tend to their chores as if they will live for an eternity; Americans eat and eat…and eat, the French drink wine. And on the list goes… Yet, by the conclusion of the month, I felt as though I had gone from a foreigner to a native. Ignorance had transformed into being culturally accepted.
My experience in Aix opened my eyes to the world beyond my life in California. I had become more personable around those that I did not know, more well-versed in the realm of French delicacies (yes, I am mentioning Nutella again), and finally, more aware of cultures that differed from my own.
In the summer of 2008, I changed.
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