I remember the first step I took when I arrived in France. I had just descended the steps of the plane and was walking to the bus that transports people to the airport. I was already surrounded by the French world; people were speaking so quickly and beautifully that, thinking back, I probably looked like a deer in headlights.
From the bus ride at the airport to my future hometown of Chambéry, my eyes were peeled open looking at everything that went by. I was listening to every French song on my iPod, unable to believe that I was now in France. After seven years of dreaming about traveling to France, my wish had come true.
Throughout this life-changing journey, I not only learned about the language and the country, but I discovered more about people, the importance of culture and would discover how much I would change. The thought of living in and being a part of France for two months without knowing anyone frightened me. I was terribly anxious about not clicking with anyone, and being the only dork in the group that would actually want to speak French.
Luckily, my qualms were quickly extinguished when I met Katie, Ariane and Ivana. These three girls became my confidants, source of laughter and fellow adventure-seekers. One of my goals before going to France was to make a real French friend. I wanted to know the real culture, the real language, and have someone with whom I could talk about my favorite country.
One day, when Katie and I were “bronzing” at the lake, a young French man came over because he heard us speak English. Although I was at first apprehensive about some person inviting us over to hang out with his friends, Antoine actually turned out to become one of my best friends. Because of Antoine, I learned the real slang of France and not just what our teachers told us, the music of his generation, how sweet people can be, and where all the dance clubs were.
Along with Antoine, I made a friend in Aleksanda, a Polish filmmaker and director. One of my favorite memories in France was being able to comminute with her in order to create an idea for a film. It was amazing to learn that people from all corners of this world share the same interests. I was so happy to find out that my creative ideas about filming were in common with someone from Poland and that I actually had the chance to express my ideas with her.
Without this adventure, I would have never realized how driven and alike people are. Yes, we are from very different parts of the world where our ideas of culture and habitual patterns are different, but we were able to take our common dreams and mesh them into a video. Along with all the new, exciting people, music became an integral part of my stay in France.
On the second day, the American students of ISEP explored a world music festival taking place in the city’s park. It seemed like everyone was attending that festival. From children to the elderly, everyone was either dancing in front of the stage, shopping at the little booths or eating exotic foods from all the represented countries. There were a large selection music events to attend, but the biggest one I went to was very similar to a smallscale Bonnaroo.
I went with Antoine and his friend Marco. This festival featured Blink-182, LMFAO, Garbage, Far East Movement, Skip the Use and more. It was particularly during this festival when I saw how much of France’s culture existed alongside American influence. Before I went to France, I had the notion that all French people would despise me.
However, I actually found out that France admires America for its industry, advances in music and, believe it or not, clothing. Who would have thought that I actually would have seen French teenagers walking around in stars and stripes? Throughout my stay, I was also sure to take advantage of my proximity to other countries and cities. I went to Italy and ate the best cheese pizza I’ve ever had, stayed in Germany where I was astounded by their proficiency in English, and had a day in Switzerland where I visited the biggest theatre I’ve ever seen.
Perhaps the most memorable place I traveled to was Paris. I think it should be known that in my room at home, I have at least six paintings, statues, bookends or decorations featuring the Eiffel Tower. You see the tower in movies, mentioned in songs, and painted in so many pictures. However, I could never imagine the magnificence of that structure.
It was only until I was standing directly under the tower, looking through all the twisted metal, seeing how it curved and intertwined and imagining all the strength it possessed, that I started to cry. I felt so small, surrounded by this enormous piece of art that so often symbolizes France.
C’est belle; c’était la plus belle chose que j’ai vu. I took more pictures of the tower than anything else. It’s so beautiful that even now when I look at my little replicas, I can remember how grand and powerful it was.
By traveling on my own, becoming financially independent and chasing after everything that I ever dreamed of, I learned so much about myself as a person. I’ve realized, by navigating German airports and discovering secret streets in southern France, that I am in charge of my own life and I can get myself wherever I want to go. I’ve also come to acknowledge how much I value other people’s company.
Something beautiful is in the fact that I became good friends and talked over a span of eight hours with two Americans who were on my flight home. My French adventure was lifechanging. It’s something that I think of everyday and has become something embedded into every fiber of me. I fell in love with the vibrant culture, the beautiful language and the discovery of becoming independent. Paris holds the key to my heart.