I came to Aix with three months worth of clothing, a broken relationship and a French to English dictionary, all stuffed inside of two suitcases. I slowly unpacked the clothes and placed the dictionary on my host mother's desk, but I couldn't seem to unpack all of the disagreements and pain from my summer fling.
It didn't help that I soon realized the feeling of being utterly and truly alone. I didn't know anything about my roommate, my classmates, my host family or the city of Aix. Not even my clothes were familiar because I bought them all right before I left. Not to mention, I was listening to a foreign language I struggled to understand, and it sounded like nothing but white noise.
In that moment, I didn't know anything about myself or the place I would call home for four months. I realized I'd been a relationship almost every day of the year since 2012, and I didn't know how to be alone. I didn't know how to be myself because I didn't know who the hell I was by myself.
So, in a foreign city halfway across the world, I decided to discover myself and reinvent the image of myself that I'd cultivated the last four years: the relationship girl who plays it safe and keeps contingency plans in her back pocket.
Whether you just went through a bad breakup, you lost your job or you just want to figure out your purpose in life, Aix is the perfect place to start over for many reasons.
Farmer's markets crowd the narrow, cobblestone streets of Aix like bagel and hotdog vendors on the sidewalks of New York City. Fresh fruit, cheese, vegetables, spices, meat and more boast their colors underneath hundreds of vendors' tents.
The smell of fresh lavender and artisanal hand soaps hangs in the air as you bite into a crisp pear. Everything is fresh, and nothing tastes like the "organic" fruits and vegetables many of us buy at Whole Foods in the United States.
Many of the vendors have samples of cheeses or fruits so you can try something new.
I ate so many foods in Aix that I would have never eaten or tried in the United States. You can discover what foods you love, hate and can't live without. You can expand your palate and feel healthy AF at the same time.
And the best part? You don't have to share any of it, and you can learn how to enjoy a great meal all on your own.
Fashion in Aix is what I like to call "lazy girl chic." Everyone wears sneakers, Toms or sandals, and no one would be caught dead teetering down the cobblestone streets in heels.
Ripped boyfriend jeans replace "jeggings" and loose, basic, colored cotton pants replace skinny jeans. Neutral colors or black dominate everyone's wardrobe in Aix, and the most jewelry a woman wears is a watch or simple necklace.
French women keep their hair and makeup natural, saving me an extra hour of sleep before classes.
Even though their style screams "I woke up like this," the residents of Aix still look more fashionable and put-together than I could ever hope to be. It's comforting to live in a place that doesn't care about showing off a new, expensive handbag or buying $100 worth of makeup to practice contouring.
It makes conversations, friends and interactions seem more raw and real. It can also help you learn how to dress how you want and look good for no one but yourself.
Imagine not having a cell phone in your hand all the time to save you from awkward conversations at the grocery checkout line or from looking awkward eating dinner alone in the dining hall. In France, this is a reality.
Very rarely would you see anyone sitting at a dinner table texting or walking through the street scrolling through Instagram. Aix isn't exactly a technological black hole. Most of the cafés have WiFi, but no one really uses it unless they're doing homework.
People strike up conversations with strangers, they teach each other English or French and they have serious debates on hot topics. They don't pull up funny pictures on Twitter and laugh about them with their friends. They talk about their own ideas, feelings and experiences.
You can learn a lot by trying to introduce yourself to a stranger. What would you say? How would you describe yourself? Would you know how to?
This also means no Snapchatting, sexting, texting or tweeting at an SO at all hours of the day. You're off the grid.
You're free to do what you want without being handcuffed to iMessage. You have no one to answer to but yourself, and you can focus on what you want to do.
In the United States, I wouldn't even run on a trail near a river because I'm afraid of bears. In Europe, I've hiked thousands of feet to the top of a mountain and crawled on my stomach through a hole leading to the inside of a cave.
Aix gives you the opportunity to live in a quaint city setting and still explore mountainous and country terrain around it. By taking those opportunities and coming face-to-face with some of your fears, you learn just how strong you truly are.
After dropping 120 feet to the ground by a thin rope, the fear of being alone after a breakup seems meaningless.
So whether you just had a bad breakup or you've lost yourself in a relationship, come to Aix. In a matter of weeks, you'll learn more about yourself than during your entire life.