12 September 2015

leaving home

The start of my adventure seemed silent, mostly ignored.  

I pretended I wasn't leaving on the morning of the fourth. I woke up in Richmond, Va and the thought fleetingly crossed my mind that it would be my last time doing so for quite a long time. I quickly pushed it away, threw my bags in the car with about as much interest as a school pack, and drove my sisters to school. 

Walking to Thursday morning advisory I ran into a friend, hugged, chatted and said "see you later." We both ignored my upcoming departure and I continued walking up the stairs. Only minor differences, like the lack of a dress code applicable to me, betrayed the fact that I was not an ordinary St. Catherine's student that morning. 

My best friend started crying at the end of advisory, not in the loud heaving way but just some extra tears and flushed cheeks. I gave her a huge hug and walked to class with her but I didn't cry. I said goodbye and walked off with another girl without too much thought. I was still ignoring reality.

I walked home and repacked my bags. My grandma asked why I would talk all my clothes out of the suitcase at the last minute and I replied that I still had plenty of time. 

My mom came to pick me up and we drove to the airport, then flew to Boston. We arrived at the hotel where she'd stay that night and happened to meet the Director of the program in the lobby. Departing for France still seemed a distant thought, not entirely certain. Going through the security line at the airport, laden with bags, I realized I was leaving on an adventure without my mother. Even so, it felt more like heading off for a weekend with a cousin than the beginning of an exceptional year. 

Just beyond the metal detectors teenagers sporting matching name tags crowded together, conversations blurring together loudly. Deciding whether they were old friends or just nervous could have posed some difficulty, but I knew these were my future class mates. We headed off in groups for a last American meal and slowly began to get to know each other. 

We were loud and obnoxious, but not too different from the rest of the people in the Boston airport with us. On the plane we all located our seats and then slept, fitfully. I woke up to a french stewardess announcing breakfast, but an english version of the message followed. We were all very much still within our comfort zones. 

As we exited the plane the huge group reformed, a cloud of American teenagers working it's way through the customs lines. We followed the lead of those in front of us and arrived at the baggage claim. It was then that I began to realize I was no longer at home.

The mass of teenagers collecting mountains of luggage stood out. Not only were we many and very loud, we spoke a different language amongst ourselves. The signs, announcements and other travelers all were in french: we spoke english and nervous laughter. 

On the bus ride I slept. I woke up for lunch and noticed the french signage all around me. We worked our way north to Rennes to meet our host family. There was an odd feeling of being a lost puppy as I stood in a crowd waiting for my family to appear. An odd mixture of french and english surrounded me as people tried to find each other in the narrow alley in front of my new school. 

I got in the car, rode home and became quiet. I adapted by listening and watching, following the schedule of those around me. I rode the metro with my host mom and just looked around me, or out the window on the bus. I walked to school quietly, observing the streets. I failed to think about the changes as they occurred and instead was struck at odd times by overwhelming surprise. 

Riding alone on the bus for the first time an odd isolation made me consider where I was. Everyone around me spoke a language different from the one I was so accustomed to living in.
Emerging from the metro to gorgeous buildings, cobbled streets and dormant cafes struck me again. Traffic circles instead of stop lights at intersections. Arriving home from orientation, exhausted from silent translation all day reminded me again of the adventures ahead. 

The whole time incredible things were happening, and I slowly emerged from my protective stance of listen and watch. I told a story at dinner and forgot that it took me three times as long as it would have taken my host brother. I asked a french student in the cafeteria line behind me what was for dessert and understood easily when he replied. I went out for an afternoon of adventuring and ordered macarons without misunderstandings. A week later I am still far from native, but I think I've begun to settle in.



  1. Sounds like you are adjusting well! You will learn so much during this experience! I am sure that once it is time for your return home that you will not want to leave France or your host family! You seem to have already had some amazing experiences and culture! I miss you lulu but can't wait to hear and see pictures from your trip! Love you!

  2. Can't Believe it took me so long to find this. You are such an incredible writer. Wow, I miss you loads but i'm so excited for you every day!! Have a great day tomorrow! xx- Em


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