Study Abroad: Fargo, ND USA

The sidewalks were so icy yesterday morning, one could have made it all the way to Main Street on their ice skates. The night before, it had begun to lightly rain, and then it froze on the ground. Yesterday throughout the day, I heard others talking at work and around campus about how the Fargo-Moorhead area was about to receive  snow, and that it was supposed to get really cold. They were right.

For my international friends, it’s -16* Celsius. The sidewalks and roads are covered in ice, and the wind cuts through your clothing. This morning while running, I made the mistake of not wearing a face mask. There was an unforgiving wind heading east to west, and the short stretch of road upon which I was running into the wind was enough to freeze my jaw uncomfortably in place. Felt like someone was repeatedly slapping me in the face.

Students of Fargo who are reading this will think to themselves that what I am writing is not anything new. They’re used to it, used to spending ten minutes scraping  ice and snow off the glass of their cars. They’re used to wearing face masks and windproof boxers while running, used to frozen jaws and eyes that crunch upon blinking. I wore two heavy winter coats, a hat, gloves, and boots to walk ten minutes to the coffee shop down the road.

It is safe to say that I am back, but what a shock. Six days ago I woke up to go running in Paris in shorts and a long sleeve shirt. Now when I go running, the conditions are so extreme, every run feels like an intense scene from a war film set in Russia.

The semester has ended, but I don’t want to say goodbye yet. I may not have the opportunity to tell more interesting stories of miscommunication living in a different country, but I will write about my experiences in Fargo and returning to The States. Coming back feels like another study abroad experience.

In four months, you establish a rhythm. You’re eating different foods, talking with new people, involving yourself with various little projects, speaking in a different language. When you go back to where you were before those four months, is it possible to adopt the same rhythm you once had without incorporating parts of the new routine that you established? How easily are we able to adapt, and that which is adaptable, was that anything important to begin with?

I learned a lot from my time in France, Germany, and the people whom I met along the way. That was the best part about my trip.

-How was my trip? It was good.

Why was it good?

-Because of the people.

Seems like such a generic response, right? But you wouldn’t think so if you knew them.

And I will tell you more about them later, individually, with more thought behind the words, but right now, I want to tell you about what I have learned from this experience as it comes to me.

1) Slow it down.

Eat slower, move slower, think less, do less. You have time to walk with your friend to their next class, cook dinner, read a book. And you should.

2) Walk.

You don’t need to take your car, nor the escalator. If you have working legs, use them, and do it with someone else.

3) Only what you need.

I brought three books with me to France, and I read them all. At home, I have over 40, and at least 1/4 of those are books that I have not read, and at least another 1/4 are books that I have only read 1/2 of. The more choices we have, the harder it is to pick something and stick to it.

4) At the same time, you have options.

I met a guy who has spent 4 years of his life on his bike, traversing Asia, Europe, South America, and Canada. I met another who took a year off from his studies to surf and rock climb in South Africa while programming computers. I met a great couple from Mexico who sold most of their things and just wanted to live in France. You have a lot of options, so don’t limit yourself nor think that not knowing is a bad thing.

5) “Il faut profiter.” (It’s necessary to profit from the experience)

With the mentality that the trip was going to end in 4 months, I experienced more. But why does one need a set end-date or to be in a foreign country? Although the result may not always be the most desirable, pushing ourselves is the only way that we can learn more about ourselves.

That is all I have so far.

To my European friends:

J’espère que vous allez bien, que vous avez  bien réussis avec vos examens. Merci encore pour l’expérience. Vous m’avez appris plein des choses.

To those in the US:

I hope to see you soon, if we haven’t yet. It has been a long time!

Love,

Matt

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