An American in Rennes
On March 20th, 2018 I had an out of body experience in Rennes, France.
At the time, I was studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic during my junior year of college. For Spring Break, I decided to visit my cousin who lived with her fiancé at the time in the northwest countryside region of France called Brittany.
My cousin was an English teacher who taught elementary school children in the city of Rennes. Every weekday, she had to get up extremely early, drive to a bus stop, and then catch a bus that would drive her about an hour to the city.
After getting a taste of Paris during my first two days in France and then traveling back to Brittany, my cousin brought up the idea of visiting Rennes. Of course, I accepted, wanting to experience as much of France as I could.
The two of us woke up very early that morning on March 20th. Her fiancé went to his place of work, while we went to my cousin’s. We rode the bus together, catching up and just talking about new developments in our lives since it had been a while.
Eventually, we got off the bus. My cousin took me to a nearby museum and said to me that she would be a few hours before school let out. The plan was that I was going to check out the museum first, and after that do whatever else that seemed interesting in the city.
I remember first spending an hour or two in the museum, just looking around at all the art pieces and really taking everything in. There were many sections that ranged from modern art, to medieval art, to sculpture, to oil portraits.
I was also one of the only people there that morning. I find museums to be very therapeutic, especially when going alone. The echo that dances across the room with each step you take, along with the personal journey that you go through as you travel through each exhibit at your own pace are exhilarating. The art was beautiful, and there was a lot to take in. The collection there was also quite impressive.
It was when I ran out of things to look at that I realized my limits didn’t have to be confined to the museum, so I stepped outside and began to wander aimlessly around the city.
Every time I somehow find myself in another country (especially in Europe), it feels as though I am stuck in some sort of strange yet wonderful dream. This solo aimlessness and freedom I had that day only amplified this feeling.
I visited many places within the city. I went inside a book shop, a record store, up and down many cobblestone pathways, and visited all of the city’s main town squares.
Then, there was a point when school let out. All of a sudden, I was an aimless, lost nobody of 21 years old in a sea of strangers. I was already feeling pretty nostalgic and existential, but this was the breaking point. It made me contemplate who I really was.
I found myself overwhelmed with everything that I had experienced thus far and the variety of it all. I began to spiral into a miniature existential life crisis. Seeing all these people around me that were younger than I was had me thinking about if I had somehow grown up in France instead of in America, and what that would have been like. I was mind-boggled by all these different ways my life could have gone and somehow my life was the one I was living then. I was partly angry at the fact that I could only choose my one life that I had at that moment, but grateful at the same time.
I then began to pull back and realize how crazy it was for me to be in another country thousands of miles away from home. I had to zoom out and reflect on that for a moment. I was an American from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was going to university in upstate New York, and I somehow found myself studying abroad in the Czech Republic. Then, I made it to where I was presently in France via a short plane ride.
None of these people around me knew who I was either. To them, I was some random French young adult walking around the street of their city, but in reality there was much more to me than that. They probably could not tell what language I spoke, or that I was a foreigner. This made me feel so small, and I realized how truly insignificant I was in the grand scheme of things. However, the fact that no one knew who I was or my background brought me closer to the conformity of humanity than ever before.
The sun eventually began to set, and the weather started to get colder and colder by the minute. I walked past kids speaking French to each other and I saw some of them travel back to their homes, disappearing as they walked down the dark alleyways that surrounded the center of the city. For them it was just another day at school, another normal routinely day living in France.
It was around five o’clock, the time in which I was supposed to meet back up with my cousin, so I walked back to the bus station. I called my cousin, and she happened to be walking in my direction as we talked on the phone. We waved to each other and met up, then got on the bus.
On the bus ride home, we barely talked to each other as the sun set in the sky creating an orange-red glow. It eventually became pitch black, and the bus dropped us off where my cousin had parked her car that morning. It felt like days had passed. Then, we drove home back to my cousin’s home, a little stone house in the middle of the French countryside.
My cousin’s dog, cat, and fiancé greeted us when we entered the door. We all proceeded to eat dinner and watch a film. Then, we all went to bed, as my cousin had to do the same exact thing all over again the very next day.
There are times when I think about March, 20th 2018. It’s already been more than two years since then. That day might have been the most awakened and self-aware I’ve felt in my entire life.
The events that took place that day made me realize that I am simultaneously a completely unique human being with a distinctive past, but that I am also deeply insignificant within the human race and in the never-ending stream of time.