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    • Hanna spends her last day in France with her friends from the study abroad program.

    • Hanna Jennings enjoys a lovely dinner with her parents and French host family.

Hanna en France: Disgraced Expat Returns Home!

Hanna Jennings ’24
I’ve been preparing myself to experience culture shock ever since I accepted my admissions decision to SYA France last March. Sitting here almost a year after I clicked that “YES” button, I can confidently say that my planning was way off.
Yes, I did experience some shock and confusion during my first few weeks in France. The lack of a clothing dryer, for example, truly threw me and my laundry schedule for a loop. Unanticipated by me, however, was the feeling of disorientation that I have experienced since returning to the United States. I have felt more culture shock during my first few weeks back in Connecticut than I experienced during my entire semester abroad in France, which simultaneously unsettles and comforts me.

Feeling out of place in a state I have called home for 17 years is an odd feeling, to say the least. Small annoyances that used to be my norm keep popping up in my life:

• My bed is too tall. (Despite being a normal height, I felt uncomfortably far off the ground during my first few nights back in Connecticut. I had never even noticed that my bed in France was shorter than my one here until I returned.)

• 5 p.m. dinners. (Seriously, I just ate lunch. How am I supposed to down another meal just a few hours later?)

• The amount of clothes in my closet. (After wearing the same four sweaters on rotation for the last
three months, this idea of having an entire wardrobe to choose from makes me anxious. I love clothes-
this change shouldn’t bother me.)

• My dog sleeping in my room. (Sully, my love for you pauses when you keep me up with your snoring. I never thought I would miss my host family’s cat and his quietness, but here we are.)

Returning to the family, friends, and home that I’ve always known has been a comforting, but also slightly anticlimactic experience. I just came back from the most incredible adventure of my life, and everything is exactly the same. My family is happy to hear my stories, but they only half-understand the plot and don’t know any of the characters. My American friends are excited to hear me speak in French, but are more anxious to fill me in on all of the Hopkins drama that I “missed.” I struggle to explain to them the complete lack of FOMO that I felt while in France, so I instead just try to listen.

My friends and family all expect me to be the person they knew in August, yet I hardly even recognize myself in pictures from last year. That unfamiliar girl used to refuse to order a pizza on the phone, fearing that she would embarrass herself in some way. During just a few months abroad, I embarrassed myself more times than I can count. One time, I answered my host mom’s question with confidence, only for her complete confusion to show me that I fully misunderstood what she was saying. She asked the question again, slower this time, and I was able to give her an actual answer. Another time, I accidentally fell asleep while watching a movie with my host family. I woke up to my host mom putting away my dishes once the movie had ended, and I immediately stood up and started apologizing profusely. She responded by laughing, letting me know that it was all okay. Through this semester-long form of exposure therapy, I’ve been able to live more freely. I’m no longer paralyzed at the thought of embarrassment, and actually look forward to sharing the funny stories that come out of these moments. This change in attitude is just one of the ways that I grew while studying abroad, and they have all collectively changed the way I view and present myself to the world.

While readjusting to my life in the United States is inevitable, it’s not something that I am looking forward to. Sure, would I love to comfortably allow myself to wear sweatpants in public again? Yes, of course — dressing in jeans everyday gets old quickly. While saying that, I worry that the sooner I readjust to my life at home, the sooner I’ll lose the person that I became in France. I’m proud of myself for who I’ve become, and hope that I am able to apply this growth to my life here instead of reverting back to who I once was.

While I am beyond grateful for the memories and relationships that I’ve gained over this past semester, I know my mom is correct in telling me that it’s time to “return to real life.” I will soon wear all of my clothes with joy and relearn the Hopkins gossip to discuss with my friends, even if it all happens quicker than I would like. In the grand scheme of things, these small changes are just parts of my life that I need to readjust to. While they haven’t made the transition home any easier, these culture shocks are a constant reminder that my life in France did, in fact, exist. To feel uncomfortable returning to Guilford, I must’ve first felt comfortable in Rennes. In just three and a half months, three French strangers became my second family, five fellow Americans became my best friends, and a small European city became my home. I am beyond grateful for the life that I built for myself in France, and Rennes will always feel like my second home.
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