Postcard from abroad
Greetings from Grenoble, France, located at the base of the French Alps. Despite the mountainous location, Grenoble is a busy, bustling city home to about 150,000 people and 60,000 university students—a definite change of pace from life in Waterville, Maine. I am taking a variety of different classes—an intensive language class each morning with other international students to work on writing and speaking in French, as well as history and literature classes each afternoon (some with international students, some with French students).
My decisions to learn French and to study abroad in France are, I suppose, somewhat paradoxically linked to having studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain during my first semester of Colby. Moreover, over a long weekend during the semester in Spain, I travelled to Aix-En-Provence in southern France, and I fell in love with everything French. I decided right then and there that I would learn French when I arrived at Colby (it would be cool to be trilingual, right?).
I took my first French class during the fall of my Sophomore year (just 18 months ago) and I soon decided to become a French major, which posed somewhat of a challenge since I couldn’t really much more than “Je m’appelle Chris” in a strange, unintelligible American-Spanish accent. In order to get my French to a level where I would be comfortable studying abroad, the past 18 months of my life have been one big blur of French classes.
I’ll be the first to admit I probably had an overly romanticized view of France—it would have been hard not to. When I was 16, I spent two weeks during the summer in an incredibly picturesque medieval village in Provence, spending the days taking trips to nearby small towns and scenic outlooks. Three years later, I returned to Provence for the weekend in the height of autumn, eating delicious French food and going on hikes through the countryside, while staying in a tiny bed and breakfast.
Maybe it was on my third day here, when I watched someone get sucker-punched to the face and then beat up on the sidewalk until the police arrived that I lost my romantic idea of France. Maybe it was when I started attending classes at the University—where most classes are just lectures with 150 or 200 people in them—that I found myself missing the small classes and communal atmosphere that defines Colby.
When I left to study abroad freshman year, most everyone I knew was embarking on something new—we had all graduated high school and were going our separate ways. While I missed my friends, I knew that even if I weren’t studying abroad I wouldn’t be able to be with them or even be in a familiar location. But after having spent two years at Colby, I often find myself “Colby-sick,” missing friends, activities, and traditions that I now know are taking place without me there. There is always the lingering thought of “What if I had just stayed…?” This is not to say that I’m miserable or even counting down the days until I come home—it was merely a much more difficult transition than I had originally anticipated, especially for someone who had already done this once.
In fact, one of the great advantages of studying abroad junior year has been being able to visit friends who are also abroad. Next week, I’m embarking on my great “Euro-trip” and am going to Sevilla, returning to Salamanca, and then going to Munich for the spring equivalent of “Oktoberfest.” I’ve explored plenty of France too. I’ve been skiing a number of times in the Alps, spent two weekends in Paris, took a daytrip to Normandy, spent a weekend in Provence and went on a 5-day road trip around various French cities when my Mom visited.
While this semester has had its frustrations, it has undoubtedly been valuable. Going to a university of 60,000 people has made me appreciate Colby’s small size and sense of community.
-Chris Kasprak ’12