Guest post by: Céline R. Bossart
As a one-year Florence study abroad veteran, I know what the internal evolution feels like. We arrive, we find our niche, we discover, we develop routine, we live, we are infinite, we are unstoppable. We see and feel the things and meet the people that will shape the rest of our lives, whether we realize it or not. And then it ends. If there’s anything harder than putting a premature end to the life we’ve created for ourselves only to return to reality, it’s facing reality once again when graduation rolls around and forces you to make a choice as to what lies ahead.
For those of us who have spent time abroad, more often than not our international experience comes into play after the fact. It has left us hungry. And when we reach a new threshold of freedom as we graduate college, we know in our hearts that we are free to chase what we left behind, or even begin adventure anew. Our eyes are open to the accessibility of the world around us. So the question is this: what is it that you truly want? What is it that you should do in this moment so that your future self will thank you mercilessly? Do I even have a clue? What is my real passion? Am I thinking in terms of happiness or financial security? Am I going to follow my peers, or will I risk everything to go against the grain?
When I went back to New York City to finish my senior year of college after having completed my junior year in Florence, I was more confused than ever. I tried to make the most of my new/old life but not one day went by that I didn’t think about dropping everything and going back to Europe. I felt cheated of a life there. And I couldn’t shake the thought that it was a veritable possibility. There was nothing stopping me. The one thing that was holding me back was the fact that all of my friends and fellow graduates had already lined up interviews and full-time jobs for after school, and while I doubted myself briefly for not having done so myself, I was reassured by the fact that I was about to do something for my own self and no one else; something that future Céline would be grateful for. So three weeks after my graduation ceremony, I packed my bags and flew to Paris.
For the following three months I lived complete and utter freedom. My backpack, my camera, and I traveled through fifteen countries, seeing the most incredible and unforgettable things and meeting wonderful people along the way. I sailed along the Côte d’Azur, climbed Mount Vesuvius, wandered the Bohemian quarters in Prague and Belgrade, choked back tears at Auschwitz/Birkenau, lounged in Budapest’s thermal baths, cruised through the Swiss Alps, dropped coins in the hands of Romanian gypsies, sipped Turkish coffee in the heart of Istanbul’s projects, and spent my twenty-first birthday off-roading around a Greek island. I slept on trains, trudged through the blistering summer heat with 20 kilos on my back, shared stories with people from all around the world, and wandered off the beaten path more times than I can even remember. My eyes were opened to the universal kindness of strangers. I stayed hungry. I felt alive. And as the summer came to an end, I found myself back to square one. What now? Still feeling so inspired by what I’d gone through, I decided to stay in Europe to prolong this journey upon which I’d embarked.
At the end of August I moved to Paris. I’d come up with the idea over the summer to start my own postcard company, and being half French, I thought that I should do so in France in order to get back to my roots at the same time. I’d also secured a job as an au pair to get myself on my feet while building my company from the ground up. As soon as I arrived, I got the ball rolling with my postcards and also began giving private English lessons to save up extra cash to put into the company and to fund my travels. I even started combat training at a Muay Thai boxing club so that I’d be equipped to defend myself on future backpacking endeavors (I’d had a sketchy run-in while in Athens over the summer). I consider this my stationary interval, my home base, while I save and plan my upcoming trips. Since settling down in Paris, I’ve had sporadic weeks off and have had plenty of opportunity to satiate my wanderlust in the meantime; I’ve since traveled throughout the French countryside, spent holidays with my extended family on the northern coast near Calais, celebrated Halloween in London, gone back to Florence on a whim, interned in a foie gras atelier in Burgundy, traded the Parisian rainfall for ten days of Moroccan sunshine, and in a few weeks I’ll be heading off to Palma de Mallorca and Valencia for another two weeks. This summer I will spend a month in Turkey, several weeks in the United Arab Emirates, and another few weeks in the UK and Iceland. I feel free. I am nurturing my passion and I am happy. There are of course times in which I doubt myself and where I’m going in life, but I often remind myself of this quote by Lao Tzu: “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
I still think of Florence almost every day. Each time I go back I’m reminded why it is that I became so attached to the soul of the city, and I ask myself sometimes why I didn’t choose to install myself there instead of having gone to Paris. I’ve explored several possibilities there and seriously considered moving back, but in the end for me it comes down to preserving the memory. My heart and head are in accordance with the fact that Florence is a rotational place; being largely inhabited by a student population means that an expiration date looms over many of the relationships you forge. And in order to avoid risking the sweet taste that my Florentine experience has left in my mouth, I’ve chosen to pursue opportunity elsewhere and am at peace with my decision.
So what next? I can’t tell you how many times I ask myself this. I’ve always been an aficionada of following one’s instinct and am a firm believer in that doing so leaves little room for regret. Even if you’ve got no clue what you want in the long run, chances are you know how you feel at the moment so why not take that and run with it? I don’t know that I’ll ever figure things out fully, but I’m more than okay with that. I know what inspires me and what drives me. I am aware that possibility is endless. I truly believe that with each piece of this incredible world that we uncover, we in turn reveal a small piece of our own selves. If you find yourself at a junction where everyone seems to be turning in the same direction and you feel yourself resisting, don’t fight it. Take the road less traveled. Rather than fear the unknown, embrace it. Make it your accomplice. And above all, stay hungry.
Céline Bossart, 21. Graduated in May 2012 from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a Bachelors of Science in Italian Language and International Fashion Merchandising Management. Currently resides in Paris, France. Hobbies include travel, photography, writing, and the pursuit of the world’s best coffee.