For nearly my entire life, the known universe to me consisted of two small towns in Alabama and some stops along the road around them. Growing up in Fairhope, AL, my family never cared much for travel. We made the occasional journey to Orlando and even went on a cruise once, but no one in my family ever had any real desire to see a foreign country, myself included. Like the hobbits of Middle Earth, I was content with staying in my own little part of the world, living a life of relative comfort and familiarity in the shire known as Alabama.
Despite my reluctance to travel, I somehow managed to become interested in foreign languages, ultimately falling passionately in love with French language and culture. As you would imagine, long-distance relationships like this are difficult to maintain without some occasional contact, and as time unceasingly advanced, France’s call rang louder and louder upon my (mostly) deaf ears. Eventually, and after many existential crises, I realized that ignoring France’s call meant I would never grow or change as an individual. At some point along the road I began to understand that placing myself outside of my comfort zone, trying new things, and constantly striving to improve myself are vital elements to a full and satisfying life. Embracing this new ideology required action, so I signed up for the 2013 Liberal Arts Summer program in Paris.
It didn’t take long to see how utterly wrong I had been. I initially chose the summer program for its short length of four weeks. This entire experience was a collection of “firsts” for me, and despite my new-found philosophy, I thought a summer was all I would be able to handle. Within a few days I found myself wishing I had elected to stay longer, but rather than dwell on my mistakes I marched forward, intending to make the most out of it all.
That collection of firsts would come to define my time in Paris. Never before had I spent nine uncomfortable hours on a trans-Atlantic flight. Never before had I fully appreciated and valued the magical utility of coffee. Never before had I sprinted to catch the last metro of the night, nor had I ever heard a conductor belt out his rendition of the latest Justin Timberlake single over the intercom. And never had I realized how over-reliant the United States is on air conditioning.
With all of these “firsts” happening so suddenly, unexpectedly in some cases, and in quick succession, I began to notice after a while that they didn’t bother me. I was, dare I say it, having fun! I walked away from my one month in Paris with more stories, friends, and memories than I had accumulated during an entire year at Auburn. I realized that excessive familiarity constricts individual growth, that a life well lived requires one to confront those unknown and strange things that frighten us. Leaving the shire ranks as one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. More than likely, it is also the best decision I have ever made.
–Mason Langenbach | Liberal Arts Program in Paris, France Summer 2014