As the world reopens to travel and the pandemic is slowly forgotten, more and more people are leaving home to head into the great beyond and explore places outside of our Oklahoma community. With these journeys come stories, both good and bad, about canceled flights or lost phones, but also of life-altering experiences, like seeing the sun rise over the Great Pyramids or visiting our nation’s capitol building.
Nice (pronounced NEEce) is a city in the South of France, right on the Cote D’Azur. With a population of around 343,000 people, Nice offers a respite from the bustling streets of Paris for a quieter, albeit still touristy part of France. 15 to 30 minutes away from Nice are the lovely towns of St Tropez, St Paul-en-Vence, Cannes, and Eze, which makes Nice the perfect homebase for the busy traveler. Away from the office buildings and modern life of New Nice, the heart of the old town lies in Garibaldi Square, with old shops and apartment buildings surrounding. Alleys full of spice and soap venders crack through the buildings, with balconied apartments above and delicious restaurants below.
Over the summer, I had the amazing opportunity to study in Nice, France for three weeks. I spent those weeks fully immersed, along with 50 other students my age, in French language, culture, and way of life. Every single day I would wake up, walk to a small cafe near my apartment building, and order a croissant and a “jus d’orange fraîche” (fresh orange juice). I spent about an hour and a half, Monday through Friday, in immersive French classes with my teacher, Fatma, who spoke no English whatsoever, meaning we were immediately thrown in the deep end. Each day after class, I’d meet some friends at a small local restaurant and spend a couple hours watching the world go by and trying the diverse cuisines offered in Nice. After lunch, I’d head to my elective class, which was either painting “plein air” (outside) or going to different museums outside of Nice, such as the Chagall museum and the “Museum de Beaux-Arts.” The afternoon varied from day to day, but usually, we’d head to the beach or wander the streets of the Old Town, checking out the various shops, cafes, and cathedrals that are scattered across the area. Every evening after a group dinner, my teachers would have a different activity for us to do, from an open air screening of an old Marilyn Monroe movie down at the port, to a fireworks show over the beach. Even though I was in a totally different country, there was no escaping the “Minions: Rise of Gru” craze, and one memorable afternoon I went with all my friends to watch it in English at a small French theater.
One of my favorite memories is my second night at the program. My mom had dropped me off just a day before, and I was feeling quite homesick. Previous to my solo trip, I had spent two weeks with my mom, dad, brother, grandfather, and uncle visiting our family in the UK, so I went from extreme closeness to being totally alone in a foriegn country. I didn’t go with anyone, so I knew absolutely nobody and felt quite in over my head. My teachers announced that we were all going to head down to the beach to catch the sunset, and so we all went, 50 American kids wandering through the old streets of Nice. I bumped into a girl named Micaela who asked me if I liked Pink Floyd. I was extremely confused as to why she would ask that before realizing I was in fact, wearing a tee shirt with the band’s logo on it. I laughed and told her I had never even heard a Pink Floyd song before in my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but Micaela would become one of my closest friends and we are still in touch to this day. Micaela introduced me to another girl named Ayla, and I reunited with a girl I had talked to at lunch the day previously named Chloe. Before I knew it, I had a small group of friends and I already felt more at home. When we made it to the beach, my teacher Altynai pulled out a guitar and started playing as the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. I sat next to two girls, Claire and Charlotte, and we all swapped stories of airport struggles and canceled flights. And then, right as I was getting comfortable, disaster struck.
My teacher called my name and handed me the guitar, and I cursed the icebreaker questions they had asked the day before. I picked up the guitar and tried to block out all the common sense screaming at me to “DROP IT AND RUN” in my head. Let me tell you, there is nothing more terrifying than playing the guitar in front of fifty teenagers you’ve never met before and now have to live with for almost a month. I slowly started playing “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift and as my new-found friends started singing around me, the fear and apprehension melted away. By the end of the night, I was comfortable and laughing and totally euphoric. The anonymity of a new country and new people brought out different parts of my personality, and I ended up feeling, ironically, incredibly at home. On our way back to our apartment building, we stopped and got gelato at a small hole-in-the-wall store in Old Nice. There was not a moment where I wasn’t laughing at someone’s story or telling my own, and the world felt much lighter than it had even just four hours before. When we finally got back, it was one in the morning and I had class at seven, yet I couldn’t bring myself to care. I had found new friends and I couldn’t wait for what adventures and stories the next day would bring.
This trip opened many new opportunities for me and helped me realize how small our corner of the world is. Our Casady community, even smaller than our Oklahoma community, feels quite little after the independence that came with this summer, and I found myself missing its closeness very much. There is comfort in seeing the same people and following the same schedule day by day, and leaving that can be daunting. I definitely stretched outside my comfort zone during this trip, and I’m so glad I did. Seeing the world, even briefly, was such a lovely and wonderful experience, and I know that if I could relive it, I’d go back in a heartbeat. Leaving my family and friends for a different country was certainly difficult, but I learned that I am much more capable than I thought, and I made it through with no major disasters. I say major diasters because one thing I learned about France very quickly was that the pigeons are vicious, and everyday is war. There was no air conditioning in my apartment (or anywhere in France, for that matter), and the days got incredibly hot. I was in Europe at the same time the record-breaking heat wave swept through, so there were days where I thought my face might literally melt off my body. On one of those days, I had left my window open to let air circulate as I was out and about, and when I came back that evening I immediately sensed a presence in my room. Fearing the worst, I cautiously took out my map of Nice and was ready to vigorously hit anything threatening with the flimsy paper map. As I rounded the corner into my bedroom, I spotted movement on the desk. I cautiously approached and screamed in fear as I realized a pigeon had flown into my room and was now devouring my pain au chocolat. Filled with rage at this blatant intrusion and thievery, I shooed the pigeon out of my room before slamming the window shut and securing the lock. I would take the heat if it meant protecting my food, melted face or not. Despite this rather startling event, I took it in stride, and it has now become one of the funny stories I can tell and look back upon fondly.
My one piece of worthwhile advice I picked up from this trip: “If you can, do. If you can’t, wait.” Shared by my lovely teacher, Arthur, he always impressed on us that we have very limited time on this Earth and we need to grab Life by the hand and run with it. I leave that advice and these words with you: There will be a time where you will be able to stretch into the world and it will be wonderful. Live it and love it and come back and tell me all your stories. Take up space, make mistakes, find new friends, try new things. Do, go, start, stretch out, live and love and most importantly, come back and tell your stories.