Daily Deac fans, today I have the great joy of passing along an essay written by sophomore Ashley Laughlin (’17) about her experience in Dijon, France. Ashley chronicled her semester abroad and was willing to share it here.
As a student who studied abroad in the same Dijon program, I can attest to how wonderful a semester it was. My Wake friends who chose other abroad programs were equally pleased and say that their time in a foreign country transformed them in more ways than they could have imagined. So my plea to you is that if your student is inclined to go abroad, try to do all you can to make it happen.
– by Betsy Chapman
I awoke one morning over winter break to a familiar, bittersweet heartache—homesickness, but for some reason, the home I missed wasn’t the house I had been raised in. It wasn’t even my university, as one might suspect. I was homesick for Dijon, France. My months abroad touched every aspect of my nature—what I wear, how I eat, the career I want to pursue. Long before I boarded my plane to Dijon, the world was telling me how much I would grow from my time overseas, but these predictions could not have prepared me for the metamorphosis I was about to undergo.
Of course, becoming multicultural doesn’t happen overnight. I had to miss a few bus stops first. Upon arrival in Dijon, I sought out a church for a Saturday vigil Mass. I was immediately lost—the narrow, curved French streets were unlike any I had ever navigated. I wandered an hour and a half trying to find the church, going in circles, turning my map around, and trying to reorient myself. A homeless man on the street corner began to laugh at me after the third time I passed by, rendering me confused and embarrassed. A triumphant wave of relief washed over me as I saw the striking spire of the cathedral breaking into the Dijon sky. I made it to Mass in the nick of time, and I managed to orient myself properly for the fifteen-minute walk back to my hotel.
The Dijon program begins with an intensive schedule of classroom studies and weekend touring: I saw Provence, Burgundy, Champagne, Normandy, The Loire Valley, and Paris. Each region was unique and impressive—the hot, dry climate of Provence, where we were reminded that France was once a part of the Roman empire, and the mild beaches of Normandy where we were reminded that France and America are forever tied in the memory of D-Day. I tasted escargot and sipped chardonnay. I learned the City of Lights, my favorite spots in the Louvre, and the easiest metro lines.
Slowly but surely, I became a part of France. Some days I would wander the streets of Dijon, just to peek into shops and to see what I could find. There were surprises around every corner—a beautiful Gothic church, a miller’s house, a duke’s palace. The cobblestones became familiar beneath my feet as I would trek to my favorite fruit stand at the market, my favorite bookstore, my favorite café. My heart would soar with delight simply being in France, becoming a part of this old world in which I felt so at ease. I devoured a series of books, as well as many macaroons and espressos—and I did it all in French.
The memories of France are still vibrant in my mind, vibrant enough that I can tap into the expanding, joyful feeling that a boat ride down the Seine gave me. If I close my eyes, I can almost feel the wind whipping my face, brushing through my hair as I stuck my head out the boat window to get a better glimpse at a gilded bridge. I can see the Eiffel Tower, lit against the sky, and the Musée d’Orsay glowing in the night. I can remember a heartfelt farewell to Delacroix’s Liberty Guides the People in my favorite room of the Louvre. I spoke to the painting silently, whispering, don’t worry. I’ll be back.
France surprised me and stole my heart—the French are rumored to be snooty and unattainably chic. I will defend the kindness of the French to my core, as well as their unattainable chic-ness. In fact, I will defend most anything French like it is my own nationality, because France gave me an opportunity to be frighteningly independent—lost and found in a foreign language, in the heart of a city, in the ruins of an empire, in my very own skin. The stresses and joy of being abroad constantly tugged at my heartstrings, exposing all of my vulnerabilities and giving me the opportunity to do what we are all constantly trying to do: find a little bit more of ourselves.
So here’s to Wake Forest University, an academic institution that promotes wide worldviews and intercultural understanding though its highly developed study abroad programs, a true Pro Humanitate effort.
– by Ashley Laughlin (’17)
Photo of Ashley Laughlin and Jordan Bunn (’16), used with their permission