I don’t know why, I just like all things French. Striped boat-neck shirts, pistachio macarons, overly decorative century architecture, existential New Wave films, that dance Audrey Hepburn does in Funny Face, all nineteen Louis’s, half-pronunciation of words… the list could go on forever. To me, France is a dream. It’s like a little heaven full of wheels of cheese, green river-banked hamlets, and the best bread you’ve ever put in your mouth. Seriously, ever. And for a long time I didn’t think I was going to really like any other places. I went to France in the summer of 2009 – Paris, and this little region in the south called Languedoc-Roussillon – and my preconceived, probably far too idyllic image of France was (somehow?!) real. There was actually a place that wasn’t abandoned suburban real estate as far as the eye could see, and to me, that was incredible.
And from then on, that was it. I was going to be fluent in this perplexing language, no matter how long it took.
But to a certain extent I was also proved wrong. There was another place I liked. It was where I had decided to root myself at least for the first part of my adult life: Seattle. Seattle was like a constant music-festival in the mountains. And next to the ocean. While getting to read awesome books in fantastic classes taught by the most interesting people I’d ever met and discussing anything with the best friends I had ever made. Seattle was a weird beanie-clad pretentious fairytale about indie rock musicians and getting to take film classes and watch movies for homework, or… something. And having grown up in that aforementioned abandoned suburban real estate wasteland, Seattle was my cultural American Mecca. I mean it was really cool.
So rewind to February of last year, when I was accepted into the study abroad program. I guess the fact that I loved Seattle hadn’t really sunk in yet, because I began to have similar feelings about leaving Seattle for France that I had felt about leaving my hometown for Seattle. In fact that same day, I went out and bought a new striped boat-neck shirt. Oh yeah, I can totally be just that cliché. And then About A Month Ago rolled around, and this almighty tidal wave of sadness washed over me. I mean, it was a slow-motion tidal wave at first, and then someone pressed play and all I could say when people asked me if I was getting excited to leave was something like “Yeah except no because it’s so scary, dude.”
Luckily, though, like I said, I know the best people in the entire world. They reminded me that French was my passion, and that they would continue to love me besides all that continent and Atlantic Ocean in the way. And then when people asked if I was getting excited it was more like “Yeah, now I can swallow this, I’m super psyched to wear all those boat-necked shirts and eat all that bread!”
I keep thinking now that France is going to be the best 6 months of my life; I can’t really help it. Anyone is going to tell you to not have any expectations, to just let things come to you as it will – but who actually does that? Yeah, exactly: no one. But I’m mostly hoping that France can help me realize more about the world. Because all those things that I semi-jokingly listed that I love about France in the beginning aren’t even a French identity, they’re someone’s (okay, my) quasi-impressions of a place based on stereotypes. It’s not totally my fault, I haven’t seen a lot of the world, and so I have to rely on what I’ve heard. But in France, I’m going to try to broaden my horizons. I don’t want to self-reflect, or get a new haircut, or be okay with my body, or come back a whole new person. And I know that to a certain extent we all will, but I would rather learn more about what’s around me than what’s inside me, because I’ve done enough of the latter already. France isn’t really an opportunity for me to become more self-aware (or even to just eat a lot of pistachio macarons and look at an incomprehensible amount of decorative 18-century architecture), it’s an opportunity to understand the world and a culture outside of my own – something that is beyond my own little universe. And while I don’t want to leave everyone here that I love, I know that I’m one of the luckiest people in the world. Mostly because of the bread.