Travel Journal: France
In Questions of Travel, the humanities course taught by this year's director of the Centre-in-Strasbourg program, Dr. Dan Manheim, we're currently studying the work of writer Alain de Botton. While completing Thursday's reading assignment from The Art of Travel, I came across two assertions that de Botton developed about what happens when individuals travel.
First, de Botton points out that while we might trek to a locale based on what we see in photographs or read about in travel magazines, those “promised gems” are not all that a traveler will see. Upon arrival, travelers will experience a slew of what de Botton calls “ordinary images” that are never photographed or written about. De Botton seems to imply that if a person travels only to fulfill some sort of tourist checklist, they'll assuredly be disappointed. I spent a great deal of the fall semester planning for my journey to Alsace and I certainly didn't plan a tourist getaway. In this regard De Botton's claim rendered me proud, almost to the point of arrogance. Even before arriving in Strasbourg, and certainly before reading his book, I resolved to do much more than see the main sites and take photos to post on Facebook.
From this claim follows a second, more important one—it's easy for us to forget ourselves when we contemplate pictorial and verbal descriptions of places. Over the past several weeks, this viewpoint is one that consumed me. I told myself that we as travelers forget that life goes on. In preparation for my voyage, I didn't consider the emails that I'd receive from professors and classmates back home. I failed to think about what would happen to the postal mail I'd receive while away from campus. I forgot about March Madness and I neglected to think about my missing Centre's annual Spring Carnival. I didn't give much thought to how I'd stay in touch with family members and friends while away. I didn't consider that I'd have to mourn the death of my grandfather while living in Strasbourg.
To my teachers and classmates on this side of the Atlantic, it would seem that I've been with them everyday since February 11, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The reality is that since March 5 when my mother told me via FaceTime that my grandfather had left this earth, I'd spent the last three weeks of my life in Pensacola, Florida. My days have been filled with talking with my grandfather about sports, politics, and living the right way. My nights have been filled with challenging him, W.C. Davis, to endless games of pool. My daydreams are not of visiting cathedrals or prancing through Prague, Salzurg, Rome, or Interlaken. I daydream of my family watching action films until the sun rises. I daydream of my grandfather, a Navy man, teasing me because I always drift off to sleep before the others.
Truthfully, the conscious part of myself has abandoned my classes. The weekend group travel periods have been fun, but any quiet moment is filled with grief and every shower is accompanied by tears.
Life is filled with ups and downs, even when studying abroad. In contrast to my thorough classroom work and meticulously planned train trips, my in-between moments have been shambles—fragments of saddened days in Strasbourg.
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