I’m now back in California, and the past few days have passed so quickly between family Christmas celebrations, seeing old friends, going to doctor appointments, shopping for my new apartment in Los Angeles, and experiencing the strange sensation of reverse culture shock.  Through all the busyness and jet lag, Bordeaux has been one thing I cannot stop thinking about.

On my final evening in Bordeaux, my host family invited my Californian friend Tracie over for dinner one last time.  That final week was so difficult because I felt like each daily activity involved with life in France was the “last time.”  “The last ride on the tram C,” the “last coffee date with friends,” the “last breakfast with my host dad.”  Even though I was sad because all of those things felt so final, I know now that it only felt that way because they were part of a new life I had established in a foreign country.  When I consider this fact now, I feel so happy!  Going abroad and being able to feel at home in France was such a personally transformative experience.  I have gained a sort of self-awareness and confidence in new situations that I didn’t have before, and for me that was a truly valuable adjustment.

Best of all, I now speak French, which was my ultimate goal with this program.  Over the past few days I have been calling French friends and speaking on the phone with them!  It feels like such an accomplishment to be able to do that now, especially when I think back to when I first arrived in France and struggled to get out a proper sentence.  It is weird not to be speaking primarily in French anymore, and I am trying to take every opportunity I possibly can to keep in practice with it.

Reflecting on the UCEAP program, yes there were a few flaws, but in general I found it to be a really phenomenal program.  All of us California students took for granted the fact that we knew where we would be living before we arrived in Bordeaux (there was a housing crisis in Bordeaux this year, as there were so many students in the city and not enough rooms to house them!).  I can attest to the fact that Anaïs worked so hard to place all of the home stay students with families who truly matched well with them.  I love my family in Bordeaux, and having a small personal support system there was so nice.  Joelle and Anaïs also prepared many pamphlets of information on the city, and the ILP, even though sometimes filled with what many thought was busy work, was a good transition into university life in France before school officially started. Joelle was so helpful during the truthfully very stressful class registration period at the university, but everyone eventually found a class schedule that suited them well.  Most complaints by students from California stemmed from differences in French university classes and those of the UCs.  Yes, lectures can run two hours without pause. Yes, many professors don’t have PowerPoints to accompany their lectures.  Yes, grading can seem very arbitrary on oral examinations.  Yes, the class website system is very outdated in comparison to CCLE.  But, these are simply trivial problems when one accepts the fact that they are no longer home, and once you look past them university in France is much more enjoyable. I can certainly guarantee that you will feel accomplished by the time you get through an entire semester abroad! It is uncomfortable, confusing, and stressful at times, but you will learn so much about another country and yourself!

I thought I’d just end this post with a few of my favorite things about Bordeaux that I will miss:  chocolatines, the Marché des Capucins, Saint Michel, biking or strolling the quays of the Garonne, soccer matches, my host family’s cat, shopping on Rue Sainte Catherine, visiting la Tour Pey Berland, the Cathédrale Saint-André, simply getting lost by strolling aimlessly, and, most of all, my host family and dear friends.  I could go on with this list forever, there is just so much I love about Bordeaux.  Merci, France, I know I will be back.

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017: