Author Archives: Aiman in France

About Aiman in France

Hi! I'm a rising junior studying elementary education in Illinois, where I'm from. I love reading, writing, trying new things, and traveling. I'm going to be a published author one day.

The Silver Lining of Reverse Culture Shock

There’s a graphic that exists out there, one easily accessible by a simple google search, that shows the general culture shock and reverse culture shock stages. It’s incredibly accurate, describing the ways being in a different culture both upsets and excites you and when. For example, a new culture is always exciting and fun when you first land – but as both personal experience and the graphic show us, that initial excitement wears off once things like language barriers and loneliness show up. Similarly, reverse culture shock works along the lines of initially being happy to reunite with family and friends at home, followed by a dip in feeling isolated from them for not understanding the ways you’ve changed and the experiences you have had, with an eventual return to your regular level of stability and well-being back home. Right now, I am in the second reverse culture shock stage, feeling like my regular life just cannot compare to the brilliance of these past few weeks in France.

It’s hard to mark what exactly makes studying abroad so transformative. Why do I feel stronger and happier? At what part, exactly, did the old me shed and the new me take over? Though I suppose there isn’t exactly an “old me” and a “new me” – just me, the same girl with brown eyes and brown skin and a hijab on her head that I was before I left, only with eyes that have seen too much of the world now to not feel immense love for it and its inhabitant. 

At the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day, one of the most fun and coolest experiences of my life! It’s no ordinary fireworks show. They go all out at the Eiffel Tower, which I can’t believe I lived a mere thirty minutes away from.

It does hit hard. Especially for those of us who live in small towns. Freedom, excitement, fun, and new experiences become a normal part of your life and to let go of that to go back home feels like the ultimate downgrade. I want to keep exploring and traveling and never stop. I’ve lost much of my fears, see, and now traveling and leaving home only excites me. I don’t know how and I don’t know exactly where. All I know is that studying abroad, in ways you cannot expect and some that are so subtle you don’t notice them, changes you  in so many ways for the better. All I know is that it’s impossible to see so much of the world, meet so many cool people, travel and explore a foreign country without finding yourself growing – impossible to try things you’ve never tried before, take care of yourself as an independent adult, and open up to complete strangers and over the course of days let them become some of your favorite people in the world without feeling smarter and more confident and better rooted in yourself and your life. What are my everyday battles when I have traveled to different countries with just me and my friends, when I have taken a french course in France when I knew none of the language beforehand, and when I lived without air conditioning during France’s heat wave a few weeks ago? My old problems now all seem trivial. Travel has a way of shifting your perspective. 

Here is the best perspective I can offer: life is spontaneously splendid and you never know when something good will happen. Do not forget, though, that sadness is valid, living with a mental or physical illness or disability can make adjusting to change and then having to leave that change and adjust to your regular life all over again infinitely harder than it is for those without one, and you have to let yourself feel what you feel. It’s okay if it hurts. I dare say there would be something disappointing about your experience if it wasn’t one you missed when it ended. But along with that sadness should exist joy in all the colors it can exist in, even if the only colors you can pull up immediately afterwards are the most dull, worn out ones. Be kind to yourself. Eventually, your regular life will appear colorful again. 

Until then, remember these things: missing people is a privilege and a huge honor because it means you have people in your life you love enough to be able to miss them. You will always have your memories and if not your memories and photographs to remind you of your time abroad, you will always carry the transformations within you it brought about. Some of these transformations you may not even be aware of, but no matter – the important thing is that they happened and they exist in you and from the moment you return to the United States until your last moment in the world, you will carry the bits and pieces of you that come from your time in a different country and with the people you met. Logan Huntzberger from Gilmore Girls said it best after Rory agrees to bungee jump off a tall, dangerously-rickety building with him that she was originally too scared to do. When they reach the ground, she says, “Once in a lifetime experience!”  He responds with, “Only if you want it to be.” The world is not going anywhere. You can return to the country you were staying in. Maybe it won’t be now. Maybe it will be in a few years.  Maybe you’ll have kids in tow or a spouse or maybe you’ll bring your parents and show them the spots you visited. We have plenty of time to travel more. But if you want to be back now, there are also hundreds of study and work abroad opportunities available online. Talk to your school’s study abroad department. Do plenty of research online. Ask people who’ve travelled abroad. Check out MedLife, WorldPackers, and IVHQ. Whether you’re studying or you’re helping others, there are so many ways you can return to a place that, for a time at least, became your home. 

Stay in touch with the people you met who you really found yourself in. Text and call and visit them if you’re able to. Share your pictures with your loved ones. And your stories. And your memories. Hold onto the things the class you took taught you. Write about your experiences. If you’re financially able to, get photos printed out and create a physical album. A tangible timeline of your memories can be immensely heartwarming to look at. There are more experiences you will have. There are plenty of adventures out there. Look forward to those but remember the beauty in reflecting and cherishing every moment you had on your previous adventure. It’s okay to hold onto it. I do not plan on ever letting go of the amazing time I had abroad, but I refuse to let it be a means of staying stuck in the past and hindering my growth. No; this is the beginning of a new journey that’s just getting started, one where I no longer let depression or anxiety inhibit me and the past ruin my future. From now on, I will treat my past gently and with gratitude and love for bringing me to where I am today. Above all, put love and kindness forward and the universe will naturally reward you with good things and good people. Thank you for following along with my experience, Gilman readers.

Having lunch with a friend outside a local restaurant in the arrondissement (district) I lived in (Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements, each known for something different). France’s leisurely dining culture is one of the things I will miss the most. The waiters don’t bring you your check until you ask them to and it’s normal to spend hours at the table talking and laughing with your friends when your meal is finished.

Au revoir, 

Aiman Ghani 

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The Ways Paris Has Made Me Sparkle

Change used to terrify me. As a child, I was sentimental to the point of it being ridiculous, feeling hurt over every little thing out of my control, letting the pain of missing someone consume my ten, eleven, twelve year old body. Thankfully over time I got fed up with feeling that way and looked for ways to stop feeling so attached to everyone and everything. After many years, I slowly learned to embrace and at times even yearn for change, because the girl who feared it has been replaced with one who recognizes that nothing in you will change if nothing in your life does. This mindset brings not fear but excitement – along with the lucid bird that is hope – when embarking on an adventure like studying abroad, which has changed me thus far in so many ways it makes my head spin to think of it.

I feel as though I have found the pleasure in enjoying eating food that isn’t the healthiest, something I had lost for so long and only now regained as I sample sweets and local food galore, the enjoyment a welcome reprieve from guilt and self shame that women especially are conditioned to employ. I have learned time and time again that there are so many intelligent, kind people in this world as I talked to peers in my class and on our pre-planned excursions (my study abroad organization offers a few). Through this, I have let go of a lot of social anxiety, doubt, and fatigue I associated with socializing. I’ve gained an appreciation for different cultures in a way I’ve never felt my heart open up to before. Broken English sounds like music and I marvel at the way letters dance when spoken in their non-English native tongues. I let others chuckle at my bad French knowing I, too, have admittedly not always been as kind as I should have been when hearing badly spoken English. I no longer fear speaking in a new language, the way I have with Spanish for years now, solely because my accent is not correct – who cares if it isn’t! It won’t get better by staying silent.

Walking back to my apartment, groceries and baguette in tow. Since I’m responsible for my own meals, I have to make sure I grocery shop.

I’ve learned what packing light really means. I know more about grocery shopping and cooking now than I ever did and living alone has taught me so much about self-care. A lot of my worries about being a Muslim in Europe, and particularly France, have proven to be for naught as Muslims, hijab-clad women, and halal food surround me. It makes me so happy when I catch myself not holding back from outings just because they’re maybe not the most convenient or comfortable for me. Something in me had shut down to going outside of my comfort zone that has been reawakened from being motivated to do so in my new surroundings, because I did not come all this way to not see all that Paris has to offer! Each time I go out or socialize and see that I am okay, I feel stronger. See? I say to myself. It’s not so scary, after all. The most important thing I’ve learned is that even if it makes me nervous, sharing my unfiltered, deep-down true self is freeing in a magical way. I have never so unabashedly been myself and been accepted for it. There’s something about travel that reminds me of what really matters in life. I feel more confident to travel to other countries in the future than I ever have before. I am proud of all that I am capable of doing, this girl from a small town in Illinois. But then again, traveling to a foreign country all by yourself, watching the Eiffel tower sparkle at midnight, and navigating the metro system like a local would make anyone feel invincible. Youth feels like it lasts forever and I sure hope my sense of adventure dies only when I do!

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My First Week Abroad in Paris, France with A Mental Illness

Anxiety Beforehand & What Preparations I Made Before Leaving the USA

My name is Aiman Ghani. I’m earning a bachelor’s of science in elementary education in Chicago, Illinois, the beautiful, utterly magnificent city where I am from. I suffer from a mix of depression and anxiety which I treat with therapy and medication. My biggest worry was that I, myself, would be the reason I would not be able to enjoy my time abroad – that I, myself, would be to blame if due to my at times uncontrollable thoughts and feelings got the best of me. Self hatred had begun rising in advance, because I would never forgive myself if I didn’t enjoy my time abroad all because I couldn’t survive without therapy for four weeks.

In Epernay, France on a day trip the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), my study abroad organization, planned for our group

But that hasn’t been the case at all since I’ve arrived. I love it and I am having a blast! Everyone is so nice. A large part of this is because I spent a lot of time thinking about taking care of myself and managing my expectations. Here are five tips for planning self care while abroad that you can begin before you leave:

  1. Talk to your therapist about some of the things you worry might come up while abroad. For example – do you have social anxiety? If you’re studying abroad with a group, expect a lot of socializing, and use the therapy sessions beforehand to come up with strategies to implement while abroad. Do you have trouble speaking up your needs, especially to strangers? Go over that and how you can assert your needs (whether it be special accomodations, assistance, etc). Whatever the negative habits and bad thought processes, really highlight the ones that will be most heavily triggered while in the situations you anticipate finding yourself in when abroad. Practice implementing the breathing, mental, and physical strategies before you leave so you have them in your back pocket when you suddenly feel awash in any of the myriad symptoms depression presents.
  2. In the weeks and months before, find easy recipes with few ingredients. Practice cooking some while at home, preferably with a parent or experienced cook alongside you. Have ideas in your mind of things you can easily make so you don’t skip meals. It isn’t healthy for the body or wallet to eat out every meal. Packing some quick breakfast also helps. I brought Belvita breakfast biscuits from the states to last me half the days and lots of people have bought cereal or eggs from nearby stores, because you don’t always have time before class to eat out and one little meal can make all the difference between a good mental state and a bad one.
  3. Decide ahead of time the values at your forefront you want to bring one or two pieces of with you, whether in material form or not. If it’s family, carry them in a matching necklace with your sister or souvenirs you know they’ll truly love or use the Eiffel Tower’s free WiFi to facetime your mom (I’ve done all three). If it’s your unique individuality and the expression of it, find places/events ones that will make you feel connected to who you are, what you believe in, and accepted for who you are (pride parades, religious institutions, libraries, areas populated with those of your culture – things that make you feel at home with who you really, truly are).
Admiring the views of beautiful Paris from Pink Mamma, a delicious restaurant!

Take care. You know yourself better than anyone else does. Big love from dreamy Paris,

Aiman Ghani

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