How One Trip to France Changed My Perspective
My decision to go to France the summer between my sophomore and junior year in college wasn’t spur-of-the-moment for me. I’m not that type. Instead, it was a move culminating after a lifetime of interest in all things French.
Around the age of eight, I stumbled across my mother’s Berlitz French book. I liked the funny cartoons in it, as well as the phonetic spelling that, once pronounced, made me sound exotic. I fancied I was speaking French.
My mother, a fastidious A+ student, had studied French because she grew up in Cajun Louisiana, the stretch just above New Orleans where the Acadians from France, by way of Canada, had settled. French was still prevalent as a second (or first) language when she was growing up, though to hear her tell it, only the real “country folk” spoke it. This coming from a woman who grew up in a town with 3,000 inhabitants. Having France in my veins made me feel a closer affinity to the country and the language.
While all my friends took Spanish, the “easy language,” in high school, I opted for French, the more difficult and less popular language elective. I loved it so much, I even took a third year for fun. I was a go-getter. Each year, I begged to join the school trip to France, but my family couldn’t afford it. By the time they did have enough to send me during my senior year, the school cancelled the trip and shattered my dream for the time being.
I continued my studies in college, and the summer after my second year in college, I decided to join the throngs of backpack-wearing wanderlusting 20somethings who go to Europe to find themselves each summer. I didn’t have an innate need to find myself; I didn’t know I was lost. But the idea of Europe appealed to me. More specifically: France was calling.
It turned out that I wasn’t such a good traveler. I whined and complained a lot the first few weeks. Everything was different, and my brain was short fusing from all the newness of the world around me. I was suffering from culture shock, though I didn’t recognize it as such. As I said, I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal, (remember I told you about my A+ student mother? Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree) and constantly being bombarded with a language I didn’t totally grasp, as well as a cultural language school hadn’t prepared me for made it hard to swallow. I like control. I like things to go my way. Being in another country did not fit those needs.
But once I got over the otherness of the world around me, I finally understood that France was so much more than what I’d learned in a textbook. More than my Francophile professor, who insisted on us reading French classics, could ever impart in his spittle-laced French. It was the world. It was buying a baguette, some butter and cheese, and making a picnic in the park. Not out of some romantic ideal, but because that’s all I could afford. It was riding on the metro, eavesdropping as young Frenchies in Adidas suits and trainers spoke their harsh and booming Montpellier French.
I returned to college, then returned to Europe to study French translation in Belgium. Instead of the tourist view, I had more of a local’s perspective of Europe this time around, and it made me thirst for more. After graduating, I started taking Spanish classes. After all, if I could master one language, why not another? Why not a dozen?
Fast forward a few years: my love for travel is fully ignited. I’m currently learning Italian, and on a recent trip, I fell in love with Italy. I’ve decided I’m allowed to cheat on France and love more than one country at a time. Call me a polyamorous traveller.
France did not just show me France; it opened me up to the entire world. I’d spent so many years dreaming of visiting France, but once I’d done that, I went on to see other places. That trip awoke the travel demon buried deep inside me, and I can never get enough of seeing the world.
My aim might have been to visit France, but once I did, I realized, in the words of Stephen King: There are other worlds than these.