The splinter in my foot that became a metaphor for studying abroad

It took me about two weeks to finally feel settled in after overcoming the jetlag, the public transportation, and the smell of camembert cheese (not easy). Two weeks passed and I was thriving, I tell you.  I was ready to ride out the honeymoon phase of studying abroad for as long as possible. And then I got a splinter.

How, you ask? Who knows, because I was wearing socks and I pick my feet up like a normal human when I walk. So, I will naturally conclude that the universe wanted to use a small piece of wood lodged into my big toe as a catalyst to foreshadow the lessons I would learn traveling and working abroad on my own. That’s what you would’ve said, right?

Seven weeks ago, I arrived in Paris with intentions to get international work experience in a diverse and multicultural work environment. I expected a fair amount of discomfort but I wanted the non-traditional study abroad experience. I think I also had fair expectations of the culture and French work environment after studying French since the seventh grade. I wanted to integrate my appreciation and interest in French culture with my professional development goals, and a work experience in Paris was something I dreamed of for years.

I wanted the independence that this program offered which proved to be both lonely and empowering. Further, I wanted the full language immersive experience which was as challenging as it was humbling.

Lonely, empowering, challenging, and humbling are words I would also use to describe the process of removing that splinter from my foot. As soon as I felt the small piece of wood lodged in there, I considered just ignoring it. Too bad I had to walk with a limp to manage that option. Enter the Tweezers. After about five minutes of zero progress and more whimpering than I would care to admit, I debated calling my mom. Maybe if I just had another person telling me to do exactly what I was already doing, I could get the splinter out faster.

The internal dialogue came in hot: You’re living in Paris by yourself for two months while working/interacting 40hrs/week in French and you’re seriously cracking under the pressure of a splinter? You’ve managed a lot up to this point without calling Mom so why undermine that progress now?? Get it together, woman!!

After some excruciatingly overdramatic 10 minutes, the splinter was out with a few small remnants left under my skin that I could deal with. It took me all of 30 seconds to forget about it and swiftly depart my apartment to explore the city.

Why am I still talking about splinters? Because corny metaphors, that’s why.

Every day that followed the Splinter Incident contained a figurative splinter of its own: awkward misunderstandings at the office due to the language barrier, lack of direction or structure in the workplace, negative feedback from my supervisor, waves of self-doubt and feelings of isolation. And after every figurative splinter presented itself, I was faced with the choice of letting the discomfort discourage me and overshadow my original goals or deal with it in stride. Most times, I took a pair of figurative tweezers and pulled that splinter out – on to the next one.

Thankfully I have really sexy layer of dead skin on my big toe from consistent exercising that stopped the splinter from doing any actual damage (I know you were concerned). And after these past two months of solo travel and interning, I believe I’ve developed that same sort of thick skin around my tolerance for stress, ambiguity, discomfort, and change. Gross imagery, worthy message.

While reflecting on the fact that I’ll be leaving Paris on Saturday, I feel a combination of sadness, relief, and gratitude. Sad to be leaving this vibrant city but relieved that my Pennsylvania bubble presents arguably less splinters than France. Nonetheless, I’ll be returning to the States with considerable gratitude for these past two months.

I spent my last weekend in Paris wandering the streets for what may be my last time for quite a while. Though bittersweet, I find comfort in the fact that I’ll always have a little piece of Paris in my heart and, of course, my big toe.

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