I made an oblique agreement to keep up with this blog, at least a little bit, while I was abroad. And while it’s nowhere near as serious as the promise I made to send my grandma a postcard (only exasterbated right now by the fact that it’s Mother’s Day and I haven’t done it yet…), I intend to keep it. If you’re reading this as a relative I haven’t talked to for the past two months, a friend who I’ve forgotten to email, or a prospective student slightly concerned I’ve fallen into the Atlantic, fret not; I have merely been in France.
I can’t explain my experience so far in a single entry hastily written before a sure-to-be-delicious dinner. I’m also doubting my current grasp of the English language. Here goes some effort at a brief update, but the summation is that I’m alive and well, in a way that involves many things that are good about being a human.
I am on an immersion, home-stay program with Carleton. What this has meant for me is living with an amazing family at the outskirts of Paris, staying in a room with pictures of a total stranger. I have played ping-pong with my host mom in a castle, toured Paris in Call of Duty with my brother, and helped my sister trap her escaped rabbit.
The “French language” part of the program is also very real. Aside from only speaking French with my host family, all of our classes are in French. The class with the Carleton professor is centered around the theme/question of “joie de vivre” and a great combination of literature, philosophy, and a little sociology. We also have an art history class where we go to a museum every week, a grammar/culture class where we can learn some context for what our families are talking about (and feel more comfortable discussing things with them!), and a politics class that’s mostly been about the elections. The biggest block of time I usually spend with the English language is when I go with other Carleton students to help out in English classes at a high school in the banlieu.
I meet new people at school, but it’s really great to spend a term getting to know people I haven’t really spent time with before. We took a class trip in the middle of the term to Nice and a tiny town in the mountains, and it was a great chrystalization, for me, of the fact that I’m here with some fantastic people.
This isn’t to say that there haven’t been parts of this term that are really difficult. I know I’m getting better at French, but it’s still hard to express myself sometimes. It’s tough to find the balance between doing all of the things in Paris I want to do, and taking it easy. There have been nights when doing homework was tough. There have been days when I have missed the people I am close to who are far away, and felt far away from the people who are nearby. I have realized that sometimes there is a language barrier, but also that sometimes there is a barrier is made of something else. I have had moments of embarrassment, shame, and incredible thirst. Last week, by accident, I actually walked out of Paris and it took me four hours to get home.
In three weeks, my program is over. I know there are parts of this existence that can’t go on indefinitely. Two and a half months is still short enough to justify nearly-daily crepes and two-museum days. I need to catch up on the Mitt Romney campaign and New Girl, and I want to read philosophy in English and send text messages in less than twenty minutes.
I really do miss my American family and my friends and peanut butter. But I know now too that across the ocean there’s this.
I saw Titanic in 3-D with a bunch of sobbing French people, so I understand that passing between continents can be dangerous. But I also think it can be really really good.
I’m going to avoid trying to reach grand conclusions now, not least because I’m a little cheese-logged. Also, I want to see if my host dad needs help making salad. I’ve learned how to use a lettuce-spinner thingy now.