First Thoughts Abroad

Friday, September 16, 2016

Today marks a week and 2 days in France and I am finally posting my FIRST blog post! I wrote this the night I arrived and I'd like to share it with you all. I already have so many great experiences and photos to share so I hope to get out more posts quickly! Thanks for being patient and enjoy! :)

Nobody can quite prepare you for a homestay study abroad experience. I still can’t even wrap my head around all of the events of today. It’s been a whirlwind and hardly anything has even happened. On Tuesday the 6th I definitely felt ready to leave home. I was relaxed and excited for the journey, but was very unsure about the whole speaking French part and my homestay situation. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I still don’t know. Currently, it’s the night of the 7th and all I do know is that I’ve accepted a seat on a wild ride. Turns out I don’t know that much French. I took it for four years of high school and two additional classes in college, however, that doesn’t prepare you for the native speaking world and culture shock. I’m totally not confident in my language skills but my vocabulary is coming back. I have a lot of determination to conquer French. Basically, this is the most I’ve EVER felt outside my comfort zone and I basically got dropped into it today without any warning. Here’s essentially how it went:

As usual for the day I leave for someplace, it was overly stressful but everything worked out in the end. My mom and siblings all drove me to the O’Hare International Airport and I said my goodbyes. Since I’ve been to college before all the way out in CA it wasn’t too bad but I started to get teary eyed saying goodbye to my mom. Very bittersweet but I also knew that my journey of a lifetime was FINALLY here and I needed to fully grasp it and seize what was rightfully mine. I had been a help to my family all summer but now the rest of the year would be about me and my own growth. Still, I will miss my family and the familiarity and comfort of my hometown. 

Getting through the airport was quite simple and I got to my gate extremely quickly. I had to wait an hour and a half before boarding but at least I was on time. The eight hour flight wasn’t too bad. I had a window seat and sat next to this Greek man who barely knew English but he was sweet. We talked a little after he pointed at my screen where I was watching ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’ and he said, “That’s where I’m from!” I was served a dinner meal which was totally mediocre and then tried to sleep the rest of the time. It was super uncomfortable and I hardly got actual sleep but it was something. The European morning was forced upon us by turning on the lights, opening the window shades, and being served breakfast while it was still about 4am Chicago time. It was weird but I knew I had to switch over to the correct time zone. So you just kind of roll with it. 

Upon landing I realized how beautiful Switzerland was. Such lush green land, cute patches of houses, and the majestic mountains. I had a two hour layover in Zurich where I mostly wandered about totally sleep deprived looking at Swiss chocolate and OPI nail polish displays. The 45 minute flight from Zurich to Lyon was so strange because I was so exhausted that it literally felt like 10-15 minutes. I drank some coffee and had their complimentary Swiss chocolate bar which gave me some needed energy and caffeine. 
Finally at the end of my airplane journey I met Patrick, my program director for CEA (my exchange program), and then I proceeded to meet Heidi who’s another CEA student from Colorado. We took about an hour bus ride from Lyon to Grenoble and it was quite miserable. I was so hot and exhausted. On the bright side I remember reading this one guy’s text over his shoulder and I knew exactly what he wrote out in French which made me proud. It was so weird being in a foreign land and I tried so hard to appreciate all I was seeing despite that my head kept falling back from exhaustion. 
At last, we were in the heart of Grenoble. First thoughts: the town has gorgeous mountains around it but isn’t as lush as Switzerland. There are lots of trees and nature but also it’s so much more commercial and has a certain grunge feel to it. I actually noticed a lot of graffiti and broken down looking areas. 
Patrick, Heidi, and I stood by the train stop and then Heidi’s apartment roommate came. Another girl from the train spoke English and carried a Vera Bradley bag. She was going to the university and was really nice so I hope to see her again. Another international student from Brazil approached us as well with some questions to ask Patrick who is the best guide to have around. That’s when I was suddenly introduced to my host mom Anne who only speaks French. She was very nice but meeting her made all my fears of the language barrier real. It didn’t feel real that I was essentially left with her to go fend for myself. It was totally nerve-racking. Patrick said not to be shy with speaking and to pull out my phrasebook. I'm so happy I brought one of those. We walked to her car and conversing was already extremely difficult. I couldn’t understand most of what she said and I was nervous and felt guilty that I was doing a homestay when I was such a beginner and so unprepared. It was awful. We drove through town a bit and she stopped at a book store before arriving at the house. When we got to the house she showed me around and kept speaking and I was just freaking out. Not many words were coming out of my mouth and once I was left alone with my suitcases upstairs in my new room, I pretty much just froze and went into panic. At this time I couldn’t appreciate how beautiful the house was or the perfect room with a gorgeous view I had always imagined. I was having an endless stream of doubts about doing homestay instead of independent apartment living or residence hall living with other English speaking International students. I frantically texted my worries to my mom and was so thankful she had gotten us free texting overseas for a month. I don’t think I could have made it without her this afternoon and all her reassuring and positive words and sentiments. I couldn’t unpack or really move at all I just stood in place and hurriedly tried to memorize a bunch of phrases so I could be worthy of this homestay experience. The only thing keeping me going was I knew the host dad spoke English and I was waiting for him to arrive back from his work. He is the reason I feel better even in this moment. He is kind, warm, and laughs too. He speaks English fairly well and we talked pretty much the rest of the night. I needed to speak English and it was the most comforting thing for me. I know I can’t rely on it the whole time if I want to learn French but I’m not sure what I would have done if he didn’t know English. They have hosted a countless number of students before and seem like a relaxed couple. They have a dog named Leon who is a small, white terrier. 

We had dinner together at 7pm and I already love the ease and tranquility of how the French do sit down meals. The table was set with bread and water on the table and there were three basic courses. The first was this dish made of fresh tomatoes, white rice, corn, tuna, and some sort of sauce. The next was just buttered pasta and then you squirted out red tomato sauce from a tube that looked like toothpaste. It was very weird and just tasted like tomato sauce from a can. It’s like the French version of American squirt-able fake cheese. Lastly was the dessert which I love since it was super healthy; A delicious fruit salad. I had heard the French have yogurt for dessert and sure enough my host mom brought some out. Yogurt in France is totally healthy without any sugar. I’ve been waiting to try this wholesome, fresh yogurt since it’s like one of my staple food groups. 
It’s pretty bad that I’m still awake seeming how tired I was at 4pm. But this day was just unlike any other. It was so weird and scary and I’m terrified for what I’ll be facing tomorrow but that’s okay. It hasn’t set in yet that I’m here and like I said earlier, I’m still wrapping my head around everything. I have never felt so out of place and it’s crazy being thrown into a new culture in this way. I figure its best I face the language barrier now then later since I do want to learn right away. It’s just going to be so difficult and I’ll have to take it all hour by hour and day by day. The fact that I have no idea what to expect from tomorrow is totally part of my adventurous spirit and now I need to go to bed and face it head on in the morning. Overall, I had a pleasant trip here and I made it here safely so I’m extremely blessed. New challenges will present themselves each day but here’s to my study abroad trip finally in action! I can’t wait for everything! Tomorrow I mostly can't wait to meet more students. Well, I'm officially abroad and definitely not in America anymore. This is all different and new. It’s crazy and I can’t believe I’m really doing it!

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