Post-Thesis Life: Goodbye Dijon

Note: This post was written May 1st, 2023.

Before writing this post, I decided to go back and read my ‘moving to France’ announcement I posted in May 2021. I remember the anxiety I felt about the application process, the excitement I had about possibly living in a new country, and how ready I was to go back to school. If I could go back in time and talk to my past self, I would detail my entire experience in both the French university system and French society, being frank about the highs and lows. I won’t lie: I had countless moments where I was close to throwing in the towel and just coming home. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like France, but there were a lot of times where I had to ‘roll with the punches’ in some uncomfortable situations, which is a natural part of trying something new.

If somehow I could do it all over again, I don't think I'd change anything. 

That's not to say I didn't have some hiccups here and there. 

My program on paper sounded like the perfect fit for me. In theory, I was going to study in France for a bit, then hop over to Japan for a semester, and then come back to present my thesis. In practice, the program didn’t live up to the expectation I had set and my Japanese semester abroad never happened, due to some perhaps intentional ‘errors’ on the Japanese universities end. 

I found myself in a new country having to fend for myself, but this was different than when I had lived in Japan. While American and Japanese universities are more ‘hands on’ with students and try to guide them, French universities throw you to the sharks and don’t even look back to see if you can swim. I’ll admit that this was one of the hardest parts of my masters degree: when it comes to getting things done, it’s up to you to figure it out on your own with no help. 

Naturally, my first week was spent running around trying to complete paperwork. I recall that my second day in Dijon I had to meet someone to sign up for classes, and I told the receptionist at the front desk that I would like to sign up. I’m sure my accent wasn’t the best, but the sentence was correct. She made me feel like I was the smallest bug in the world, saying ‘What? Huh? I don’t understand. What?’. I sat outside on the concrete steps and cried, wondering if I had made the wrong choice coming here.

I didn’t.

I love Dijon. I love living in the city center. I love walking to the bakery 2 minutes from my house and checking in the windows each day to see if they stocked my favorite raspberry pistachio macaron. I love the different parks scattered around and how walkable and calm the city is. 

I love my little apartment with yellow curtains and a view peeking over the elementary school across the street. Even now, as I sit on a train headed 3 hours away to my new home in a Parisian suburb, I feel so thankful that Dijon was the first place in France where I built my ‘home’.

When I defended my thesis in the beginning of April, it really felt like I was writing the final chapter of my Dijon story. I walked up on the stage, presented my work in front of my friends and family, and received glowing praise from my directors. 

It was almost an out of body experience, seeing all my hard work these past two years wrapped up into a single moment where I felt so happy and so sure of myself. Suddenly, I could see two paths: the one behind me that I had lived, and the one ahead of me I hadn’t yet explored.

Yesterday night, as Guillaume and I packed away the last of the boxes, I nudged one of the luggages out of the way so we could go on the balcony and take in the night view one last time. It was sad, of course, and I stood there for a moment in silence trying to photograph this exact moment in my mind so I could keep it forever. Finally, Guillaume gave me a hug and said ‘Bye for now Dijon’.

So, to all the friends I’ve made living here, all the people who treated me with kindness throughout my 2 years, and to this city I’ve grown to love… bye for now :)