“Comment ça va?”
That’s how you’d ask someone how they are in French. The question is the same in English: literally, it means “how is it going?” As in English, you can answer “ça va bien” or “ça va mal,” depending on whether your day is going well or not.
But where we might answer “fine”, the French might say “ça va.” “It’s going.” Those who know me have probably heard me say this in English, but in French it’s a common response. (As opposed to here, where people usually think I’m trying to be funny.)
What I want is the “feeling” version of that. Because lately, that’s what everyone asks me. My friends, my family, my boss. “How are you feeling? Are you excited? Are you nervous?” It always seems too complicated to explain the real answer.
Am I excited? Of course. But also, no. I’m not sure you can be excited for something you don’t understand, and right now France might as well be marked “here there be dragons” on my mental map. I’m excited in a vague, abstract way, because I know I’ll have great experiences and see amazing things, but it doesn’t feel like real excitement to me. It’s like saying that I’m excited to someday meet my future spouse, or that I’m excited about life after graduation. Sure, those statements are true, but they don’t really mean anything to me.
Nervous is easier. Truth be told, I’m kind of terrified. But it’s not the kind of nervousness I feel before an important final. It’s not the anxiety I get walking into a room full of strangers. It’s a fear of the unknown, a fear that what I find when I step off the plane will be nothing like what I imagined, and that it’ll be up to me to either keep up or fall behind. It’s much easier to be afraid of an unknown than it is to be excited about one.
And these feelings are mixed up with all sorts of other ones: sadness at leaving behind friends, if only temporarily; excitement (real excitement) at the prospect of spending Christmas in Europe with my sister; confusion and minor panic because I’ve forgotten how to conjugate half of my verbs. They’re also buried under ordinary thoughts: Where did I put my phone? Do I have any dinner food in the house? Did I take the laundry out of the dryer? Crap, I have to fold laundry now.
There isn’t a word for all of that put together. If I were to tell the truth, my response would have to be simply, “I’m feeling.”
In almost exactly one week, I will be moving to France for the better part of a year. It will be exciting and scary and everything in between. And it’s happening no matter how I feel about it. It’s going. I’m going.
This piece is cross-posted on the Georgetown Study Abroad Blog, where you can read about the experiences of Georgetown students studying across the globe.