During my flight back to New Orleans, there was no doubt that I was returning to the U.S. People were louder. People wore less conservative attire. People smiled at me for no reason. And, to be completely honest, it felt like I had never left. It felt like I pressed play on the remote after being on pause for four months. That’s exactly how it felt. I resumed normal American life with no issues. I returned home to my family, and it just like I had returned home from a regular semester at Cornell. Not much had changed.
While I didn’t detect any major differences in my personal life at home, I am now even more cognizant of the differences between European and American life. Aside from the faster pace of life in the States, I am aware that we are not as conservative of our resources, whether that is water, energy, waste, gas, etc. I find that, as a country, we are less worried about conserving and more focused on getting what we need in this moment right now. While this mindset might get things done quicker, it is not always the best option for the environment. Europeans utilize public transportation on a much higher level than Americans. We love our cars and the convenience of them, but there is no doubt that our abundance of cars has a negative impact on the earth. But, on a smaller scale, even when it comes to the amount of time we spend in the shower in the States, it seems excessive. After living in France, anything more than a 10 minute shower seems so wrong. What do you really need all that water for?
There are a lot of other things I could rant about, but there are also some positives that I missed about the American way. In America, at least some parts of the country, we greet strangers with a small and sometimes even make small talk. I didn’t experience that as much in Europe, and in France, you definitely don’t say “Bonjour” to a random person walking by. The only time that really occurs is when you’re entering a store or a restaurant. I also appreciate how we tend to eat dinner earlier in the day, giving it time to digest before going to bed. Lastly, I appreciate the diversity I witness on a daily basis in America. There were some places in Europe where the people were very homogenous, and I could feel the lack of diverse peoples.
But, if I could have one call to action to Americans, it would be to look up from your phones and enjoy the company of those around you. I noticed a drastic difference between phone usage in Europe versus in the United States. In Europe, when people are out with their friends, they are looking at each other, sharing laughs, food, and drinks. As soon as I returned to the States, the first thing I noticed was everyone attached to their screens, children, teenagers, parents, grandparents. It saddened me to see something so small as a screen intrude on the time we spend with our loved ones. It gave me hope to see this problem is not a universal one, however. I plan to start with myself as the change, reminding my friends and family to take a break from technology and go outside or spend time with each other.
I’d like thank Cornell and my family for making these realizations possible. Without either of them, I would not have been able to have my abroad experience. I’d like to thank France for being my home away from home for 5 months and introducing me to one of the sweetest families I’ve ever met. Lastly, I’d like to thank Europe for opening my eyes to the beauty of affordable travel and endless opportunities. Because of all of these things, I have a fresh perspective on life and an insatiable hunger for adventure.