I spent this summer doing nothing. Really, I want you to understand, nothing. After quitting my job in June (to the chagrin of many people in my life who viewed it as throwing away a potential career), I would sit on the couch for hours on end, feeling unable to leave the house, communicate with friends and family or interact with any humans except my boyfriend. It was a victory if I managed to drag myself to a coffee shop (usually around 3 p.m., after hours of buildup), and that was usually the extent of my excursions. I watched as bright sunny days rolled by into hot sleepless nights, marking the passage of time by which entire TV series I’d binged that week, doing absolutely nothing to prepare myself for what was to come in mid-September.
I asked myself: is this the behavior of someone who seems well-equipped to move to another country where they barely remember the language, with zero support? Because that was exactly what I was planning on doing. I had applied for a teaching program in France, gotten in, and now felt like I was about to make a gigantic, catastrophic mistake: the girl who was unable to rouse herself before noon and who ate bags of Skinnypop as meals would soon have to find somewhere to live, set up a bank account, get a phone, submit mountains of Visa paperwork, make friends and teach, all after arriving in France, all completely on my own.
I wasn’t the only one who was worried. My boyfriend noticed how I lay in bed for hours each night, unable to breathe, gulping and gasping for air until I admitted defeat and went downstairs to be on my phone. My parents noticed how I disengaged from conversation, a faraway look in my eyes. I became distant from my friends and slipped away to France without much fanfare or notice.
The first few days and weeks were difficult (ok, that’s an understatement). I couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying, and I broke into tears after every phone call with my loved ones. Constrained by my difficulty ordering food, I ate very little, but I didn’t feel hungry because of the pit in my stomach. Every day I was confronted with new hurdles, and I felt like I could barely keep up.
But I found somewhere to live. I opened a bank account and got a phone and did the mountains of French government paperwork (“let’s kill some trees” is a common saying here before cracking your knuckles and getting to work on the seventeen separate documents needed to open a bank account). I found colleagues who helped me more than I could have ever anticipated, and friends who understand how alone and adrift one can find themselves in a foreign country. It took a lot of practice, but I no longer feel constrained by my ability to communicate with people, because I don’t want to live my life the way I did back home, never leaving the house and never making the best of my time here.
It’s only been two months, and I feel like a different person because of these challenges. They’ve invigorated me and given me a new sense of confidence in my ability to take care of myself. I have successfully navigated challenges that I struggled to perform back home: making new friends, getting a doctor’s appointment, going to the grocery store by myself and buying actual nutritious food at said grocery store instead of just Doritos and cookies, to name a few. These things may seem simple, but to me, they were not, and it took changing my whole environment and attitude to overcome the inertia I had succumbed to.
Opportunities like this don’t come often, and I’m privileged to be able to pack up and put my “normal” life on hold for eight months. But the message applies no matter what you’re afraid of, no matter what leap you’re hesitant to take: sometimes you get to a good place by doing the “wrong” thing. Sometimes conventional logic is a hindrance that prevents you from seeking the opportunities that will help you grow and change and learn about yourself in ways no routine, logical action could.
So that idea that’s been sitting in the back of your head—the one your heart’s been holding onto that your brain is saying no to? Give it a shot. There’s a reason it’s there.
Author: Katie Clark
Author Bio: Hi! I’m Katie. I’m a Columbus native living in France until May 2019. My main hobbies are eating bread, eating pastries and bungling the pronunciation of French words.
Link to social media: Instagram @shewasakaterboi