France: Change, it’s inevitable

Lives are always happening. People are bustling to and fro school, work, and every place in between. In the midst of life, change occurs constantly. I know a lot of people who absolutely love change. My mom is a big fan. When I was younger, she went through a stage where she would rearrange the furniture in the living room almost every month (so maybe I’m exaggerating a tad but trust me, it was often).

I am not a big fan of change. Every time I get a new hair cut; I hate it. I can always count on an adjustment period of at least a week, and then sporadic fits of hate for the hair cut forever. Adjusting to college took me about the 2 years I’ve been in it, and I still want to drop out on a regular basis… And yet in two days I leave for 10 months abroad to live and learn in France. While I am excited about traveling, and the many escapades I hope to embark on, I’m also nervous. I have only taken the French language for a total of 16 months. And those 16 months did not involve a lot of studying the language… Yet here I am about to live and breath and exist mainly in the world of French. The change that is about to occur is astronomical.

Fast forward 2 weeks.

I have been living in Saint Etienne, France for over two weeks now. Such a short time for a life altering occurrence. And yet the amount of change that I have faced these past 17 days is not something that I think I have begun to comprehend.

I live with a French couple, who have two daughters both of which are away for school this year (Paris and Malaysia, super cool). They have previously taken in 12 exchange students over several years from all around the world, but I am happy to report that I am their first American! Because both of their daughters are in college now, they have more room for students. So this year, they are generously hosting 4 students: me, an American, Bianca, a Romanian here for her second year of masters, Elena, here for her first year of masters, and Lisa, a Japanese student who just moved here with her family.Lisa just learned ‘bonjour’ a week and a half ago. Bianca speaks wonderful French and English, and Elena has the most wonderful French pronunciation (which she is kindly helping me with). And I’m stumbling along…The communication has been an interesting factor in the transition.  It is quite the multicultural and dysfunctional house with a multitude of hand signals, translating apps being used, and miming taking place!

I arrived on a Thursday night, registered for class on Friday, explored the city a little on Saturday, found a church on Sunday, and began school on Monday. And ever since then it has been a whirlwind of language and culture learning! The people of Saint Etienne, known as Stéphanoise, speak rapidly and with a very strong accent. But they are also extremely friendly and patient, so while I struggle understanding them, they are very kind and endure my destruction of the French language. At school, I have class for 3 hours every morning with a group of wonderful international students who are all struggling like me! It is comforting to know I am not the only one who can’t hear the difference between I eat in imparfait and I eat in passé composé. Besides the morning grammar class, I am taking a theater class and a contemporary French culture class. These courses take place only once a week each and allow for extra opportunity to discover the amazing and different culture that exists in France!

For the longest time, I had the faintest hope that maybe when I got to France the language would simply click in my head! I wouldn’t have to struggle, it would just happen! What was I thinking… Yet everyday as I learn and comprehend more, using this foreign language feels more comfortable. I can see that distant future when the language will click (the very faint and distant future). And I cannot wait for that because little things like ordering a cup of water will not be misunderstood! But for the moment, I will enjoy the struggle and the strife, or at least try to. I will laugh at the many hand motions that have to be used in a day, and I will rejoice when I conjugate all my verbs in a sentence correctly! While the change that has occurred is immense, it is good and wonderful and frustrating and exciting.

Bree Starnes

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