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  • Writer's pictureEmma Nichols

one year later

So, here we are. This post finds me at my one-month-home mark since I returned from France. In all honesty, I've been avoiding writing this post. If I finally write a "closing" post, that means it's really over and I'm really back home in Oregon. It's hard to just move on that quickly. I hope that you have enjoyed following my explorations and life learnings over the past year. All of the support that you have sent my way, virtually, spiritually, and even physically (thank you so much to all of you who wrote me cards - I kept every single one!) inspired me to continue with this blog and share my life with those closest to my heart.

I've decided that while my first French adventure has come to an end, my blog will stay alive! As I enter my first year of university this fall, I would love to continue to share what I learn with those of you who are interested in seeing my story play out. I will be majoring in voice performance with a French minor (very fitting, I know), and I could not be more excited! With that intro, there will be lots more to talk about in future posts. But I'd like to officially give a final, well-deserved post to my last month in France, and all the bittersweet emotions that came with it.

Part I - The end of the school year

With all of the emotions I had already prepared myself to feel, one of the hardest ones had to be saying goodbye to my students at work. It's very traditional in France for students and even colleagues to give their teachers little end-of-the-year gifts, and the most memorable is, and forever will be, a t-shirt from my 5th graders that has "The American Who Is The Most French" written on the front, and all of their signatures on the back.

Needless to say, I cried when I pulled it out of the gift bag. I even promised them that I would wear it at the end-of-year festival, which I did, and I even decided to wear it on the 20-hour voyage home. Saying "au revoir" to all of my sweet, elementary students was tough, but even saying goodbye to my high school students was difficult. Throughout the year, I had the opportunity to get to know my older students, and learn about their passions for life, those who loved English told me they wanted to do something similar to what I was doing - it was just bittersweet. I could not have asked for a better experience for my first year of real adult life.

I've written a lot about my work environment over the last year, but I hope that by now you can understand that it truly was my family for a year - these people cared for me, watched me grow, invited me into their personal and family lives to impart my excitement and passion for their culture, and supported me through every new venture I took while I was there. To say that I miss them would be an understatement.

Part II - Family vacation

As some of you might have known, my family and I actually made a plan early in 2022 to have our first international vacation all together, and it was a success! Once I finished my internship, I took the train up to Paris and reunited with my family for the first time in eleven months. Shocking? Yes. But once we were together again in the Airbnb, it felt as though no time had passed. We started our vacation with six days in Paris, then a train ride to Annecy (eastern France/The Alps) for three days, then down to Bordeaux in the southwest for six days so I could show my family what my life had been like for a year. The entire trip was very relaxed - I was very grateful that my family budgeted a lot of time for just relaxing and living like the locals so they could really take in the essence of European living. I don't remember a day that was rushed (except running to catch a bus once or twice), leaving us lots of time to enjoy an espresso at a café in the afternoon or take an afternoon nap after lots of walking in the Bordeaux 102-degree heat. I was over the moon that I had the opportunity to guide my family through some of my favorite places across Paris. As we explored these cities that I had already personally visited, it felt incredible to be able to point out to my parents, "Oh, that was where I went with these friends the first time I came to Paris," or "That was the salon where I would get my hair done". Being able to do my normal route into town but with my family next to me on the tram felt surreal - in fact, the whole entire trip felt surreal. You can imagine, after entering a country where I knew not one soul at the beginning, it felt wild to be able to invite the three people with which I am the closest in my life and being able to fit in the pieces of the puzzle that they had only heard about for months. I decided that, in the process of writing this post, I wanted each of my family members to write an excerpt of their experience in each city we visited in France during our trip. So, here are my three family features to add a little bit of a change to this post!


Brad: Paris

"Paris, where to start? It had been 23 years since my last visit and although I vaguely remember it, this time was an entirely different experience. So much so, that I want to make regular visits to keep the 'feeling' alive!

After a setback in departing, and a pleasant diversion to Brussels, we finally arrived in Paris and while very tired we were over the moon in seeing Emma in person once again after so many months apart. It was a wonderful reunion, and to do it in Paris made it all the more special. We spent the next 5 days exploring as much as we possibly could, and as much as our feet could take! If you want to get yourself in shape, a week in Paris sightseeing is a great jumpstart!

We started our explorations in the center of it all, first at Île Saint-Louis where the line for ice cream at Berthillon was quite long so we opted for a planche and refreshments at St. Regis. After exploring for a bit, we finally got that ice cream and yes, it was good! From there we headed to Île de la Cité to check on the restoration of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and although it's in 'recovery', it still looks magnificent! From there we walked to the Louvre, and while we did not go in, just seeing its grandeur from the outside is quite stunning! It was interesting to observe that here I am, having traveled halfway around the world to see this special place built long ago and filled with so much history, and then you have the locals on their skateboards riding back and forth like this is just an everyday thing. I wonder if they feel a sense of awe while taking videos of their skateboarding skills? We wrapped that day up with a fabulous hamburger for dinner, and learned that the French usually eat their hamburgers (and sandwiches) with a fork and knife. I will say, it made eating a hamburger more of an enjoyable meal and was able to really taste what I was eating!

Our next day had us headed to the Arc de Triomphe where we saw the vastness of Paris from atop. It's a great place to take in the splendor and history of Paris (and France). After that we took a stroll (we took many strolls on this trip) down the Av. des Champs-Élysées where we made the requisite stop at Ladurée and selected a dozen exquisite macarons for later. From there, we enjoyed lunch at Brasserie L'Alsace and sat street-side where I had some of the best French onion soup I've ever tried, not to mention having trout for lunch (cooked perfectly in butter!). To work off some of our lunch, we tightened our laces and took another stroll to the Tour Eiffel, where we took what's certain to be a photo (or 30) prominent on this year's Christmas card. As it was getting to mid afternoon and the heat was 'getting up there', we decided to make the trek back to our apartment, not before enjoying a rather expensive libation (always ask the cost first...).

This day started with a delightful brunch (and actually, every brunch was delightful) then a trek to Montmartre to visit Sacré-Cœur. Oh man, the detail that went into that building is amazing! And no, we didn't put a lock on a fence, although there were plenty of fellas that wanted to sell us a lock. After that enlightening visit, we strolled around Montmartre and saw a bounty of art offerings all around. After a short café stop for refreshments and refueling, we made our way to Le Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens) where we soaked up the sunshine and beauty of these expansive gardens (I could get used to this!). Then a short jaunt led us to the Panthéon (again, an amazing building!) where the coolness inside was welcomed after our sun bath. It was remarkable how the French honor the remains of their notable citizens. As we headed back to our apartment, we were delighted to pass a churro shop, where we promptly ordered away!

On our last full day in Paris, we ventured out a bit further to Versailles where we had lunch, did some shopping, ate ice cream (glace) then a stroll through some of the Gardens of Versailles (a much bigger stroll to see it all than we were up for). And talk about an amazing display of landscaping! We were awestruck with the scale and beauty of these gardens. We learned (about 10 minutes too late) that you can rent a golf cart to drive around the gardens, next time! Once we had taken in what we could, we strolled back to the train station for our return trip to Paris. From the train station, we found our way to the Seine, more specifically to the Bateaux-Mouches for an evening boat tour of Paris on the Seine. With a split of Moet and a Heineken in hand, we boarded the boat for our 1.5 hour tour. This was a great way to see some of the sites of Paris (many of the same sites we saw from walking the previous days but from a different vantage point). After the boat tour, it was time for a final dinner in Paris. And as it was 10:15pm and still sunset, we had to wait until it was darker to see the lights on the Tour Eiffel. So we settled into a nice restaurant in close view of the Tour Eiffel and dined while we waited until 11:00p when the lights finally happened. After wrapping up dinner (at 11:45pm) we headed to the apartment to rest up for our next day's journey to Annecy.

Like I mentioned at the beginning, it had been 23 years since I was in Paris last, but this trip I saw so much more, tasted so much more and loved so much more! The history that is woven throughout Paris (and France) is so impressive.

Being a lover of design and architecture, I was like a kid in a candy store! Everywhere I looked I saw something remarkable, and to think that most of it was built hundreds of years ago is even more impressive.

But even the newer elements (think small cafes) were special to see. Oh, and I love the doors, each one was like a special signature to its building, and I doubt that any two were alike!

If you asked me what was the best meal or favorite food I ate, I couldn't answer that. Everything we tried was wonderful. Most of it was prepared so well and simple, but yet the taste was remarkable. And yes, I could eat a croissant every morning and a baguette with cheese every afternoon. The dining experience was special, something not rushed through, but savored with family and good food.

And while the experiences we had were all memorable and will be remembered for years to come, none of them would have been that good without Emma as our guide. Her fluency in French made all the difference in talking with the people of Paris whether it was ordering meals, shopping, asking directions and just chatting. This was like the icing on the cake, seeing her in Paris and being immersed in the culture so well. I cannot wait to return! Merci!"


Elliott: Annecy

"I had such a great time on the trip, soaking in the rich culture and the stunning scenery. My favorite (albeit shortest) stint of the trip was in Annecy. From the minute we got off the train, I was completely immersed. By comparison, it was the smallest city we visited on our trip, but to me, it boasted some of the grandest sights of our vacation. My fondest memory of the trip was our bike ride around the lake. Not only was the water some of the clearest and bluest I had ever seen, but the mountains surrounding the lake made me feel like I was in Mamma Mia. Something about the rich culture and gorgeous views stole my heart. Walking through the streets held its own excitement.

Seeing all of the different shops and restaurants,

the crowds of people just enjoying life, it spoke to something within me and I want to return as soon as I can to feel that once again.

We also got the wonderful opportunity to visit the families of both our high school exchange students. After sharing our lives with them, it was an incredibly rewarding experience to see and learn about theirs. It brought the story full circle and thoroughly enriched my experience and my memories of the trip. When I return to France (I will definitely be returning) Annecy will be a must stop for me, and a longer segment of my trip."


Kim: Bordeaux

"I left my heart in Saint Émilion.

Merci Bordeaux, I long to see thee again! Some of you know this was my first trek to Europe and what built the most anticipation for me, of course, was getting to see Emma after her year abroad. This truly was my only expectation and to end our French journey in the town she resided and worked was particularly meaningful. We stayed in the heart of town in a very traditional apartment. We canvassed Emma’s favorite neighborhoods, dined at her favorite cafes, shopped at her off-the-beaten path boutiques, walked to her coveted fromagerie and took metro and busses to get to the BEST patisserie.

We drank the region wines together as a family and visited La Cite du Vin – this extraordinary wine museum is a must see! We celebrated Bastille Day in all it’s red, white and blue glory and witnessed the most spectacular fireworks show I have ever seen on Place de la Bastille waterfront – what a gift! I was taken by the quiet of the crowds, all eyes to the sky, savoring the beauty and meaning, respecting everyone about to enjoy their own show. They’re such a respectful nation... in contrast.

My two host families meeting my real family

Having Emma lead us in our travels, speaking the language removed any tourist angst I had and let us truly immerse in the culture. It was a beautiful experience for this mom to be guided by her daughter, on her turf, relying on her communication skills and knowledge as we ventured about the town. Perhaps the most meaningful days were spent with Emma’s host families. They gave selflessly to Emma and enriched her year with family events, travel and thoughtful loving and care. Having the opportunity to share my gratitude for their wonderful support and kindness meant so much to me. We enjoyed the back road sites as locals with them and witnessed treasures and secrets of Bordeaux we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

Bordeaux is such a special place – I was so taken with the countryside and so surprised at the palpable ease of living. The French have it figured out from my view and I found myself adapting ever so swiftly and that had me kicking and screaming on reentry."


Part III - The end

I will say, that after having my family come and join me in the new place that I consider another home on this planet and really seeing with fresh eyes what I had experienced for a year was life-changing for us all, my parents and I especially. Being the baby girl of the family, it was awesome to be able to be the one calling the shots, making all of the restaurant reservations, getting us directions, and translating during dinner parties and such. My ability to not only speak French but immerse myself in another culture to the point of feeling at home there not only shocked me but my parents too. It warms my heart that they were able to see me there in my element, as they know how much France and Europe mean to me now, and they are so supportive of any of my ideas about going back in the future, whether that would be to study, to work, or just to explore more. I cannot believe that my adventure is officially over. It is officially one month since I arrived home, and while each day gets easier, there are little memories that pop up all over the place that give me those warm and fuzzy feelings of all of the amazing places I visited, things I experienced, and people I met, who have changed my life forever.

Back in Portland after 48+ hours of travel

To everyone reading this - thank you. Your support has helped me continue my dreams and want to pursue the things I love in my life. I know that I wasn't always on top of my posts, but it has been so much fun putting them together and getting to reflect on memories of my year. I hope that my writings inspired you to explore a little more than usual, and for anyone thinking of traveling to France, I'd be more than happy to send you my tips, tricks, and favorite spots. I'll write this last little bit in French, therefore you must translate it to understand its true essence:

"Je me sens plus comme moi maintenant que je suis passée une année en France, et j’ai hâte de voir ce que m’attends dans mes futurs avenues.”



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