I’ve never been good with good byes.  You could say it’s a Minnesota thing, as our farewells stereotypically extend beyond any normal statute of limitations.  For me, I always seem to be at a crossroads with my emotions, wanting to leave in a smooth, yet sincere way.  Of course, I am very excited to return home, but as the Semisonic tune “Closing Time” reminds us, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

I remember stepping off the plane in Bordeaux the afternoon of January 3rd, scratching my eyes after an overnight flight to Paris, and a delay at the Charles-de-Gaulle Airport.  My first day of my study abroad experience did not go well, plagued by fatigue, poor planning, and little guidance.  I’ll be honest in saying I was numb with fear my first night, not knowing how I was going to survive another four and a half months.  And then, things started to change.  Having the time to step away from the life I had led till now allowed me to discover a lot about myself.  Being in a new country provided me with a wealth of new experiences, and I was able to share them with people I’d never met before.

In three days, I’ll be in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, ready to return to everything I left when I came over here.  It will be comforting to be in familiar surroundings, and I know that seeing loved ones again will provoke the same question, “So, how was it?”  It’s a question I’ve thought long and hard about how I’m going to answer, and I’ve decided that no catchphrase or soundbyte could do this experience justice.  This blog post won’t either, but what it will do is give credit where credit is due.  I don’t really know how to say good bye to this place, and all I can do is express my gratitude.  I owe plenty of thanks to the people that helped me have the growing experience that I did.

To my landlady, an aging florist, who frequently leaves at 3 AM to go to the flower market, I have so much respect for the passion you put into your small flower shop.  You set a great example for young people to follow as someone whose ambitions were achieved through hard work.  Though our communication is sometimes limited because of our language preference, no words need to be said for me to know that you care.

To the folks I have met on my adventures throughout Europe, your cameo appearances in this experience have left a lasting impression.  To the runner I met in Porto who smokes 2-3 packs a day, but can still run a sub-3 hour marathon, you’ve taught me that there will always be something scientists can’t quantify: the human spirit.  To the middle-aged man on the bus in Dublin, who until now never had the chance to go to school, thank you for showing me how education can light a fire.  To the fans I met at White Hart Lane, I appreciate you making me feel like part of the family.  To the fans from all over the world at the Barcelona Marathon, even though you didn’t know me, and probably won’t see me again, thanks for showing me that no flag can get in the way of sportsmanship.

To the international students I met, getting to know you all was a true pleasure, and I hope we stay in touch.  The fact that we all came together, despite hailing from all corners of the globe, was a special thing.  Being able to be in a conversation with a student from Australia, Great Britain, and Canada all at once really made the world seem quite small.  You guys have officially infected me with your love of “football,” and I no doubt will be a life-long fan.

To the city of Bordeaux, I can’t thank you enough for providing such a welcoming atmosphere.  You all were so accepting of us as internationals, and were patient when we didn’t know the way.  This place really has a calming effect, a feeling like I’ve never experienced before.  Sure, there aren’t massive monuments or high rises, but I think the charm in this place is something that can’t be seen.

To the French, thank you for showing me such a great appreciation of self and for the value of life.  You have taught me that to truly love others, you must first love yourself.  Yes, your numerous strikes may confound our schedules a bit, but I respect the fact that you are willing to stand up for what you believe.

To those who supported me throughout this experience, thank you for all of your help and advice.  I would not have been able or comfortable doing this without your encouragement, and trust in me.

To those of you who were gracious enough to read this blog, thank you for all of your kind words.  I recognize that I had quite the hiatus in the middle of this experience, and for neglecting this, I do apologize.  At the time, my writing became a lot more introspective and self-directed, and I felt it wasn’t appropriate for this medium.  I thank you for your patience!

Finally, to the experience over here, thank you for happening.  I had reached a point in my life where I was looking for an opportunity to learn about myself, discover new territory, and take some chances.  I planned this experience with the intention of not knowing anyone in advance, or having much of any idea of what was going to happen.  I wanted to step out of my box, and have an adventure.  I certainly did.

Signing off,

Jack

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