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  • Writer's pictureEmma Nichols

bittersweet realities - growing up and "adulting"

this post is going to focus on some more of the realities and beautiful, but difficult, challenges that i'm beginning to experience as a newfound adult.

I want to begin by stating that I hope nothing in this post comes off as me just unloading all of my frustrations and challenges in life, but rather, my observations on growing, taking on more responsibility, and many other ways I'm learning to bridge the gap between my teenage years and my new adult life. Of course, everyone has or has had a different experience than I have, but I am always open to advice and friendly commentary.

So, I've been living abroad in France for less than two whole months now. It would be an understatement to say I am in love with this place. It is incredible! The whole adventure in general, but even down to the little specifics, like being able to buy a croissant at literally any corner I turn, and the glossy black terraces on every original apartment building. It truly is just incredible. I'm so grateful for this opportunity. But - this whole adventure didn't just come with an easy transition into not only my new adult life but into a completely new country and culture, plus on top of that: starting an internship in a new field for me as well! To share this very vulnerable part of my life and personality is challenging - it's hard to put your struggles and weaknesses out there and not be a little worried about the feedback you might receive from people. But at the same time, I really, really want this blog to be a place where other people who want to learn about the realities of an international exchange or learning a new culture (or even just growing up with big dreams!) can understand and be prepared beforehand for challenges they might not have known they might face otherwise. And finally, I am working on accepting the idea that to be vulnerable is to be strong, and being real with yourself about difficult truths in your life is so helpful in growing as a human.

One of the first and biggest challenges I ran into even the first day of living in France was of course: the language barrier. Now, I have taken three years of formal French classes through school in the past and took seven or eight months of private lessons this year in preparation for the inevitable journey I would one day take to France, that ended up coming a lot earlier than I had ever anticipated (hey, not that I'm complaining). But with that, I always figured that I would have gone through a few more years of French in university, maybe hosted some more exchange students from France for real-world practice, etc. So, this opportunity coming after only four years of really studying the language made me realize that there was still so much more for me to learn, and there always will be, as languages grow and change as humans and cultures do. Upon arriving in France, I immediately realized how fast everyone speaks. And it's not that I'm not used to speaking fast - trust me, I am known for having the WPM (words per minute) of a cheetah - it's just that in most practice in the years I learned French, I was speaking with people or listening at a reasonable, generally slow pace. So, I quickly learned a good "head nod and 'oui, oui,'" strategy to show that I am involved and actively listening in conversations without having to ask every person to speak slowly to me. And, even just over two months, my speaking and listening abilities in French have improved greatly, while I still have to ask people to repeat things occasionally and whatnot. I would definitely consider myself a perfectionist, another attribute I'm working on balancing in my life, and it's really hard to take on extremely new situations while wanting everything to go perfectly, so it has been extra important to me to take risks with the language and just make an effort to, for example, speak in paragraphs, talk about social dilemmas, or even just discuss music with friends who use a lot of slang.

In this way, I feel as though I'm helping myself in more than just the French language, but also by confronting my need for everything in my life to go smoothly all the time and accomplishing everything perfectly, which we all know is impossible as human beings. While each day I try to speak as much and as best as I can, there are some days where I do just fall into a pit of discouragement. There have been days where I have gone into multiple different shops and bakeries and came in speaking French and ordering in French, and the shopkeeper or employee immediately switches to English for me, which makes me wonder if my French or my accent is just that terrible. On the contrary, there are other days where people stop me on the street and ask me where a certain street or tram stop is, and I'm actually able to respond to them and help them out. So, it really is a roller coaster of emotions each day that I deal with.

I would definitely say that being away from home has been another of the most difficult challenges I face day to day. It's interesting because at first, you might think, "Oh, how sad," but as I've thought more about where this homesickness comes from, I've realized that it's really a testament to the incredible home life that my parents and family have created for me that makes me miss them. I feel so blessed to be able to say that I had such an amazing childhood and teenage years, full of people who brought so much happiness and light to my life, and therefore, now, as I grow into a completely new environment for me, I realize that I have nothing but immense amounts of gratitude for everyone who has played a role in my life to get me here. But, with all of these amazing memories and people, I've found that it's natural to miss those times when things were simple as a child, and the memories that will always stay intact in my mind. I struggled a lot in my first few weeks, as I had really unpredictable mood swings, different than ever before, and I have only just now put the pieces together to understand where they stem from. While homesickness is a part of it, being that I'm over 5,000 miles from home, it goes back to the idea of me having such a strong bond with my family. I've found that the days I have the most energy, the best experiences, or just incredible news, when I'm alone again, getting ready for bed or whatnot, I feel the lowest and most melancholic. I've discovered that this is because I am so used to coming home at the end of the day to my family, having dinner or a movie night, and discussing things that happened during the day, funny stories, or my plans for the next day. This is just a natural part of growing into an adult - the constant support and presence from my family has shown me that it's even more important that I care for myself in the same way now.

So, in light of this, I've begun journaling at the end of the day, just kind of a mental and emotional check-in and recap, for the times when I can't just pick up the phone and call my parents due to the time difference. It's a way for me to check in with myself, center my energy, and see if there are any things that I need to be focusing on within. It's easy to be happy, energetic, and feel full around people, when I'm on a new adventure, or having a meal with friends, but it's just as important to me to feel that same way when I'm alone. While I do talk to my parents and family a lot still (more than many others in my position, I've found), it is just completely different, because although I'm meeting all these new people and having these new experiences, my family isn't here to meet these people or see the experiences. I'm very thankful, however, that apps such as FaceTime and video chat exist, because, after even just a 20-minute call with my family, I am bursting with pride and happiness, and it makes me feel even more grateful for the incredible past that I've led, and the amazing future that waits for me when I return. I feel as though this challenge may not ever completely go away, but it will become easier as time goes on and I learn more ways to connect with my family as I grow up while I'm not physically with them. This will happen no matter where I am - living across the world or living in an apartment only ten minutes away. It's just a natural part of getting older and becoming an independent person. But even with all this being said, there is never anything wrong with asking for help and advice, and I will continue to try and be open when I feel like I need more help as I navigate this new lifestyle.

I think when it comes down to it, there is really only one other challenge I recognize often, that I somewhat mentioned already. As I grow into an adult, I realize that the title really means nothing. Just because I am a certain age or live a certain place or have a certain job really means nothing in terms of maturity, wiseness, strength, and so many more things. When I officially turned 18, I was so excited, and I truly felt like I finally was an adult and I was more than ready to take on all of the responsibilities of being an adult. But now, as I step back and take a look at what it really means, there are so many different types of lives to lead as an adult, and they all come with their own set of challenges and difficulties. I look at my friends and classmates my same age; we are not all on the same "level" in life. While I am here, across the world in France, most of my peers are starting university and having extraordinary new adventures that I can't wait to have as well, but at the same time, are dealing with similar challenges, like missing their family, or struggling to feel truly like an adult in this new stage of their lives. At the beginning of this school year, I felt like somehow I was behind. That by not going to university this year, I was missing out on all of these experiences that I was supposed to be having at this stage in my life. I wondered about education, and if I would lose my passion for learning or if I would not be on the same level as others when I finally do go to university. But then, a few weeks in, when I became a bit more comfortable in my surroundings and confident in myself, I realized that I am learning different and similar things, at the same time as my peers, and that what is happening is completely natural. Although I may not be on the exact same path as many others that I see right now does not mean that I am not on the right path for me. After these two months, I now know that I am extremely passionate about learning and growing in my person, and I'm confident that I am taking advantage of tons of experiences here that will help me in my future. While they may not be exactly the same as many of my peers during this year of our lives, these experiences will prepare me for what is coming in my future, and that asking for the same experiences as everyone else would not be practical, as receiving the exact same as others means that I could be missing out on what is meant for me.

So, fitting into this new "adult" title was a lot more different than I thought it would be. Working at a school with kids of all ages and just having graduated high school last year myself makes it difficult to be addressed consistently throughout the day. In reality, I don't have an issue with my title in my work life. The students are able to work with me comfortably because my personality and position don't have the stress or expectations that a teacher might have for their students, but I am qualified enough at what I'm doing right now to expect some respect and professionalism from my students. At the same time, I am learning to budget, schedule my weeks, plan lessons for English courses, and balance my social life all at the same time. And, to top it all off, I sit in on a few courses of French per week in my high school, with the same students that I work with in their English courses, and so sometimes I am their peer, and sometimes more of their student-teacher. You can probably see where the wires get crossed for me, and how it's not always easy to just feel entirely like this adult figure I'm trying to learn to be. However, I think it is secretly a blessing in disguise because I am able to ease myself into this idea of an adult that I hope to be one day, but I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to be today. While I am naturally responsible and mature, I am also carefree, fun-loving, and innocent, and I want to find a better way to blossom into an adult without giving up any of these qualities.

I think that there is a stigma behind becoming an adult and that it is this "having to be perfectly balanced all the time, making no mistakes and having a clear path that you're working towards at all times". But honestly - we never stop really growing up. So, to me, an adult is someone who is strong, responsible, and resourceful, but also someone who is kind, carefree, and real. Someone who can be in touch with their emotions and let themselves feel hurt or scared, but can also remind themselves that they are strong and able, and can carry on even on the worst of days. Someone who can ask questions and make mistakes, but also can admit when they're wrong and learn from their past. Someone who cares for others selflessly but cares for themself just as much. This is the type of adult that I'd like to be.

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