Lunch Dates at Burger King: Social Life Abroad

ELLE CHIARADIO

It was perhaps six months ago I walked to the Refectory misty eyed and anxious. I had just finished up some work on my visa application when it suddenly hit me: in a few months, I’d be an ocean away from all my friends and family. Instead of excitement, I began to feel a deep sense of dread when I thought about my upcoming departure.

I remember telling my friends how I knew I had always wanted to study abroad, how I had been looking forward to it for years, but now I didn’t feel like I wanted to go. I was too scared, too worried, what if I didn’t make any new friends? How could I survive four months completely by myself?

They all did the thing friends have to do sometimes, point out how I was being completely unreasonable and how I shouldn’t worry so much. I’d be fine. Plus, in our modern era, I’d be able to get in contact with any of them easily, need be.

That didn’t make leaving any easier, though. I couldn’t think about it without crying. The week before I left, I was uneasy and saddened, spending as much time as I could with my family because I knew it’d be another four months before I saw them again. I even drove all the way back to Salem College for a day so I could see my friends one time after the long, three-month summer, before having to say goodbye for another four.

I’ll always remember the last wave I gave my family before I passed through security at the airport. My mother was wearing sunglasses inside to hide her tears, my younger brother was trying his best to comfort her, my father standing stoically by their side, only to text me five minutes later that he’d miss me. I didn’t cry in the airport, but I sure wanted to.

And although I’m generally an optimistic person, I was definitely right to be concerned.

Something I didn’t realize until I got to France was how different French college campus are. The dorms aren’t located right next to the buildings in which classes are taught, and most students don’t live in the dorms, rather they stay in apartments or with their families or in private student dorms, something I don’t even know if we have in America but are fairly self-explanatory. It takes me fifteen minutes to walk to school every day, and I live in the closest dorms to the school, and while I don’t mind the walk, it does present another problem: I don’t live anywhere near my friends.

It’s what I miss most about Salem. If I wanted to see my friends at lunch, all I had to do was shoot off a text in our group chat saying “rat?” Something like that is impossible for me now, plans have to be made further in advance and often times there will be days where I don’t see my friends at all, and that adjustment was probably the most difficult one I faced. For a time, I was very lonely, because rather than seeing my friends multiple times daily at Salem, I now see them maybe once for an hour or two every two days, if we can manage.

Which is how Burger King comes into play. I have, shall we say, an assertive personality. I’m not afraid to try to speak in French to native speakers and fail miserably, even though usually I do well for myself. My friends, however, do not share this trait. So, they’ve come to love Burger King, where you can order and pay on touch screen computers rather than risk the embarrassment. In all honesty, it’s a great option if you’re a tourist who has no idea how to speak French, although I find it unfortunate that we live in the gastronomical capital of France and are constantly eating burgers and fries.

But irony aside, I’ve come to love Burger King, not for the food, but for the lunch dates me and my friends go on way too many times a week, like, three times a week, I’m not proud. Austin has no filter and Kian has the sense of humor of a thirteen-year-old, and it’s juvenile and silly and never appropriate conversation and it’s hilarious, and fun, and I’ve laughed so hard my throat has hurt. We’ve shared our pasts and our dreams for the future, encouraged one another and offered advice, and grown to become our own trois mousquetaires, as our group chat is so creatively named.

Now, we’re planning a group trip to Paris. I have a map of Burger Kings on my phone and I couldn’t be more excited.

That’s not to say I don’t miss my friends at Salem, who know who they are. It was their support at the beginning of this story, after all, that urged me to go abroad as they knew I had dreamed to do. They were the ones who had reminded me how excited I had been, and how excited I should be for such an amazing opportunity. And they’re no doubt the ones who will support me when I come home only to miss my new friends.

Studying abroad causes us to face a sad reality of life: we often cannot hold on to people as tight as we would like. But facing this reality allows us to better appreciate how beautiful it is that we get the opportunity to share our lives with people, however short or long the time.

-Elle

(If you have any questions you want to ask about study abroad or articles you want to see, or are just curious about what I’m up to, message me on Instagram @laurenkaytravels, I’d be more than happy to hear from my Salem Sibs!)

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