by Kurendeep Rai, Greenheart Travel Language School in Paris program participant
Friday. *deep breaths* Okay so let’s get things into perspective. I’m off to enjoy a final hurrah tonight at a club called trinity with my friends until I go to Paris for three weeks on Sunday. Am I nervous about this? Not really but I can picture myself walking past my host family’s house several times before I even dare to knock on their door and apparently “start a journey of a lifetime.” How am I feeling now? Apprehensive. I really don’t know what to expect; especially as I’m traveling on my own for the first time in my life. All I know is that I’m spending three weeks with an old couple and a Brazilian student who will attend the same school as me.
Speaking a foreign language in which I know a few general phrases scares me. Will I constantly feel like an outsider? How will I communicate with my French family?
I can either dwell on these questions without coming to any rational answer or simply dive into the situation head first. I opt for the latter. After all, what more can I give?
* * *
I’ve landed in Paris and am currently on a train with a vague idea of where to go and how to get there. I am now a foreigner. I cannot understand ANYONE.
Will my host family’s house be big or small? How big will my room be? Will I be sharing a room with that Brazilian kid? Most importantly, is it a boy or girl? F**k. It’s raining. Why on Earth didn’t I bring an umbrella?
There seems to be a lot of Muslims wearing head scarf’s compared to London, as I pass the various stations on the train.
Oh God, I’ve forgotten how to say “What’s your name?” in French. Is it “Quelle appelles tu?” I’ll just say that and hope it’s good enough.
* * *
After an arduous journey and finding out how to use the Metro system, which, by the way, is a lot less organized than the London Underground, I find myself outside the door of Monsieur and Madame Chabannes house. I knock. Monsieur Chabannes opens the door abruptly, welcoming me with a “Bonjour!” I smile and reciprocate the same phrase as that’s all I can say. More French words rattle in my ear. I can’t understand what he’s saying. I feel like he’s just regurgitated French words all over me as I try and clamber my way out of this sticky mess. *I breath* and smile. I hear him talk to Madame Chabannes whispering “Il ne parle pas francais”. She gives me a surprised look and escorts me to my room saying phrases which I do not understand as she closes the door. *SILENCE*. I look around. I say out loud “This is will be my bedroom for the next three weeks”. I anticipate the next day.
* * *
Monday. I sit down with the host family at 8am for breakfast. I do not understand a word they are saying but just say “oui” and “merci” in the most authentic French accent I can give. At 8:30am I leave for school. Fortunately, the French language school was easy to find. As soon as I step in, they welcome me with a “Bonjour” but transition to English as they’ve spotted the tell-tell signs of a confused English teenager.
They make me sit at a test and review my oral level before assigning me to a class. I’m in the bottom set.