Arriving in France — to live here rather than just to visit — was a strange sensation for me. We landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport around 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 13. I had lost six hours of my day and was running on less than two. My racing thoughts didn’t allow me to sleep on the plane, so for a solid hour and a half, the characters from “Monsters University” befriended me and eased whatever anxiety I was having. I listened to playlists made for me by my best friend and my boyfriend. The Beatles and Pinegrove were the soundtrack to my flight, and their voices managed to sing me to sleep. But not for long.
Accompanied by my friends Kate and Laura, we got off the plane and immediately tried to find out guide, James, who was an alumni from New Paltz teaching at the school we’d start going to about a week from then. We also met up with two other girls from New Paltz, Suzanne and Tori, and from there we began what would be another long and tiresome journey to finally reach Besançon.
We took a bus from the airport into the heart of Paris and waited at the Gare de Lyon train station for upwards of five hours. The station was an open space with no insulation so it was freezing. We sat there, tried to keep warm and ate some sandwiches from Prêt À Manger (not real French cuisine by any means but it sufficed at the time). At 2:53 p.m. we finally boarded our train to Besançon. We each had to get on separate cars because of our reserved seats, and so I sat alone, listening to music, trying to breathe, trying to calm down, as I anticipated meeting my host mom, Joëlle, along with the other people I would be living with: Laura, a 19-year-old French girl; Ben, a fellow American from North Carolina who had already lived there since September; Ederline, another young, French student; and Alexis, Joelle’s son.
The thought of meeting all of these new people and having to speak French to them made me want to throw up. I didn’t feel like I was ready, although I desperately wanted to be — I was throwing myself into this study abroad experience after all.
When we arrived at the Besançon Gare Viotte, I carried my many bags and happened to recognize Joëlle walking toward me.
We both said each other’s names at the same time. We both smiled and she helped me carry my belongings to her car. I said goodbye to my New Paltz friends for the time being, both nervous and excited to leave them. I would be the only one of us staying with a host family while they all lived in the student dorms.
We arrived at the apartment on Grande Rue, the main street in Besançon, and walked up five flights of stairs. My arms were sore after carrying my 23 pound duffle bag all the way up (I’m weak, okay) and when I walked up the next flight of stairs to my room, I dropped my things to the floor.
Joëlle introduced me to Laura and called us “neighbors,” seeing as we would be living in rooms next door to each other. Laura, with her big green eyes and freckle-covered face intimidated me at first. I hardly understood a word she said. I was embarrassed by merely trying to have a conversation. Being as sweet as she is she smiled anyway and laughed with me. I managed to get the words out in French and told her that I wanted my French to get better. I wanted to understand. “It takes time, it’s just the beginning,” she said.
Then I met Ben, who lugged my 50 pound suitcase up the mighty staircase for me (God bless him). And he spoke to me in French. Being that both our native tongues are English I was a little taken aback by this but we were both here to do the same thing: to learn French — and after a mere six months of being here, his French seemed immaculate to me, although he will say otherwise. I also kind of enjoy the fact that it feels almost natural to talk to another American in French, simply because that’s how we were introduced. It does also help that he’s a fellow English speaker, in case I don’t understand something and he needs to translate or find a different way to explain something to me in French. Oftentimes he’ll play translator for both Laura and I.
That being said, everyone here has been exceptionally patient with me. Though I often still get aggravated with myself at my inability to really say what I want to say in French, I know that the mere trying to and thinking of what I want to say alone helps me, rather than not being able to live with and speak with other French speakers, native or otherwise, at all. Though I was nervous beyond repair before I arrived, I knew I needed to live with a host family. I knew myself and my learning abilities and I knew I’d do better being surrounded by the language throughout the majority of my days.
Like I mentioned in my last post, I am certainly still adjusting. I am adjusting to speaking French more frequently and being away from most of the people I love so much. But everyone here helps — those I live with as well as my friends from New Paltz, who are going through the same transitions as I am.
I’ve been here for about three weeks now and the only way to describe it is as a dream. I feel like I’m living in a daydream most days, in that being here doesn’t really feel real. I feel like if I close my eyes tight enough and open them back up again I’ll wake up at home, whether at my suite in New Paltz or my bed in Bohemia. I walk down the streets just admiring everything around me because like everything else, I am still accustoming myself to my surroundings, the different architecture, the vast amounts of history that lie down every street of Besançon and every inch of France itself. Walking home from school with Kate one day we both agreed that being here is surreal, and it really is one of the best feelings.
Not to mention I’ve certainly accustomed myself to the my legal drinking age and ability to now buy alcohol, along with all the decadent pastries and cuisines that Besançon has to offer (living in the Franche-Comté region of France, I feel that Comté cheese is my life now. It’s truly amazing.).
Though I miss home more some days rather than others, if one thing is for sure it is that I am still relishing every moment I’m here. It’s hard not to. And like I said, it’s practically like living in a daydream.
Below are some pictures of my life here. I hope you enjoy them virtually as much as I do in real life: