Well I’m a hot mess. It’s ten AM. I’m sitting in the Marseille airport in black wedges and a lowcut black dress, hair straightened and eyemakeup still applied (although a little bit smeared). I’ve never looked this good in an airport. And I’ve never felt so drained in an airport (which is saying a lot, considering how draining air travel can be.) Why this glamorous state of distress? Well, I decided to celebrate the end of my exams and final day in Aix Sciences Po style. Last night (although it was really only a few hours ago) was the IEP’s annual “Gala,” a classy (and expensive) end-of-the-year celebration for all of the students and professors in my school. It was a dressy affair, so we all got dolled up last night and then a bus picked us up at the Rotonde and took us out to the “Aixagone,” what I swear is a summer camp that happens to have a nice building with an auditorium. As the bus pulled down the gravel driveway, we passed a pen of donkeys and some crazy playground structures. This scene seemed at odds with the extremely well-dressed and beautiful French students milling around (not to mention us classy foreign kids).
Inside the Aixagone, we were treated with champagne, wine and finger food, serenaded by some students’ rock band singing old 90s American songs. (Can’t escape the 90s here). Then we were herded into an auditorium, where we watched a variety/awards show put on by the IEP students. I had no idea what to expect from the Gala, so watching the dance performances, film clips, and comedy skits was a great surprise. (Although I was pretty tired and couldn’t decipher all of the French that was said.) After the “Spectacle,” buses took us to a nightclub, also in the middle of the countryside. We drove down a dirt road to get there and I was sure the bus wouldn’t be able to fit through the old stone gate at the entrance, but French drivers work wonders in small spaces. By the time we got to the club it was after 1 AM, and since I haven’t slept all week (literally) because of studying for exams, I was pretty tired. Nevertheless, I had a blast dancing and oogling the ridiculously good-looking boys I’ve had the priviledge to go to class with and occasionally talk with for the past five months. Seriously, an IEP party could be a fashion shoot, there are so many well-dressed, probably rich, handsome people there.
I had so much fun I had to force myself to leave at 5 AM to make sure I could get home in time to finish packing and catch the plane to Dublin (my next destination and final trip before going home.) Packing my life into two suitcases was difficult, so by the time I finished that, I took a fifteen minute nap and headed for the bus station, where I missed my bus to the airport, took the next one, made it through check-in and security without fault, and am now sitting here waiting to board the plane to Dublin, where I will meet my friend Katie.
The last 24 hours have been surreal. The last week really. Exams were tough. Real tough. Although we had zero work throughout the school year, all of the work was crammed into exams, because you are expected to memorize and understand literally everything the professor says, spit it back, and apply it to real life. Since I’m an international student, all of my exams except one were oral, which is supposed to be easier, but it freaked me out, especially since all seven of them were crammed into the same week. There’s nothing like thinking of responses to detailed questions on the fly in another language to get you motivated to study 24/7. I had a scare earlier in the week because I thought I would actually fail an exam or two, but I stayed up all night Tuesday night, took my exams at 8AM, 9AM and 10:30 AM, and finished feeling pretty good. So I don’t think I’ll have to repeat a semester. Phew. Plus, I can now tell you all kinds of useless information about maritime law, nuclear fission, De Gaulle’s foreign policy, and many more fascinating things. In French to boot. I’m proud of myself I guess.
So anywho, once I finished exams I relaxed in the hot sunshine, did some shopping, and started saying goodbyes. The past month has been such a whirlwind of studying and last minute things that it never really hit me that I was actually leaving. But saying goodbye to friends I’ve made here, who I may never see again due to a huge ocean between us, makes me realize that I’m leaving, and not coming back (at least for a while).
The Gala last night also made me feel the finality of leaving. I started this semester with the IEP masked ball, and I ended it with another IEP ball. In some ways I’m disappointed that I know the French students hardly better than I did at the beginning of the year. But I do know them, have had classes with them, and consider myself a part of their school, so I didn’t feel like an outsider anymore. I only wish I could be there longer. My last image of the club as we left is of a line of guys in white shirts and skinny black ties (the skinny tie is coming back. Just wait, America.) dancing on the bar with blissful, un-self-conscious abandon. For some reason this image stuck in my head. Maybe because I’ve never seen American college guys so unconcerned about looking like a goof when dancing.
Basically I love IEP, Aix, France, Europe, everything. I’m really glad I made the decision to come here. My bank account may beg to differ, but it’s all about the experience right?? While I’m excited to go home, see my family, and make some real brownies, I will definitely miss France. I’ll miss the laid-back lifestyle, although most of it comes from an acclimation to inefficient administration. I’ll miss walking through the produce markets every day on the way to class, and being able to meet my friends in the park and share some cheese, wine, and a baguette. I’ll miss hearing French spoken everywhere, and I’ll probably be speaking a bit of Franglish when I come home, but no one will understand when I say I just “ratéed” or “Ca marche.” I won’t be surprised if I start telling people “it’s not grave.” It’s hard to say what I love most about France, because what I love are the little things, the everyday life, because the French in the South make an effort to take each day slowly and cherish every minute. My hostmom always told us not to eat too fast, because there’s no hurry in eating. I’m going to try to take that mentality back with me. Even during my toughest exam week, I took a few hours off to eat ratatouille and crepes with my friends one night, something I would never think of doing at Michigan. I went to the beach in Marseille Saturday even though I should have studied more. But it all worked out and I realized that it is possible to take life slower and still get things done.
Now I’ve got a week left in Europe, and I’ll be in Galway, Dublin, and London, with my best friend. I’ll try to write a little bit about these last adventure, too. For now I’m going to find a corner somewhere and sleep. I don’t know how my body is still working.