Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gay Pah-Ree

My first trip abroad was to France. I have mentioned it before, and I think I have also mentioned how inadequate of a packer I was back then (I have learned a few things since then). I was also totally green to the ways of the world, but in some ways, this is what gave me the gumption to take this trip in the first place. If I would have stopped and thought about what I was getting myself into, I may have faltered. But I muscled right through in my naïve, adventure-seeking way.

The reason I went was for a summer work abroad program that I had signed up for through my college. I had gone to countless interviews and to orientations where they told us things like: don’t put your hands on your laps at the dinner table because the French would assume you were playing with yourself. I had to do language proficiency and writing proficiency tests. I had to write letters to my future employer and roommate, introducing myself and thanking them for the opportunity. I still have copies of the letters. They are pretty funny.

First I flew from San Francisco to Paris. I arrived at Charles de Gaule jet lagged, disoriented and confused. The aforementioned luggage was a hindrance. I tried to get francs out of the ATM while guarding my bags and trying to remember my French phrases. Next, I had to get from the airport to the train station, which seems easy enough, but first you have to take a shuttle to terminal 3, and walk to the Metro where you go through the turnstile and then take a shuttle back to terminal 1, where you catch the bus to the train station. Have you ever been to Charles De Gaule? If not, and you have never traveled before, I would not suggest it be the FIRST international airport that you tackle. It’s kind of big. 

I finally found the train station, bought my ticket and sat and watched the board with the schedules and times go “tick, tick, tick” and flip all the times and track numbers and destinations over. I remember thinking over and over, “what have I gotten myself into?” Here I was in a country where I knew nobody, where I did not really know the language and where I was like a beacon, a small American girl with 4 huge suitcases, just waiting to be robbed. 

I wasn’t robbed. I got on the train and went two hours south to Bordeaux, my new home. Luckily (and I can’t quite remember how, as these were the days of little internet) the girl whose flat I was renting for the summer met me at the station, got me on a bus and took me to her house. Her name, in typical French fashion, was Marie Pierre. Not plain Marie, but Marie Pierre.  And of course, it was not Mehr-ie, but Mah-REEE! Pierre. She had a boyfriend with her named Khalid. Luckily, although not well, they did know a tiny bit of English. Not that I expected them to, but if you have ever taken a long flight, you know how foggy one’s head can be afterward. If you had  then ran around Paris like a chicken looking for the Gare du Nord, and then arrived somewhere new and met new people and you are feeling a little overwhelmed, you would know how nice it was to not have to remember all of your French phrases right at that moment. 
So, we made small talk, which was great, because that was the French I knew the best: How many brothers do you have? Where are you from? Where do you work? Thanks French 101! It was exciting, being in a new place, starting a new, although temporary life, being out on my own, an independent, French-speaking American, ready for an adventure. We got to the apartment and I got right down to business starting my adventure.

I went straight to bed.

Thank goodness for MP and Khalid. Without them, I don’t know how I would have managed that first day. Stay tuned for tales of the adventures at my new job!

Do you remember your first trip abroad? Have you ever traveled by yourself? Do you like it/hate it/don’t care either way?

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