Une Vraie Aventure

May 14, 2008
By Margaret Elmore, Charlotte, NC

This past July I spent four weeks of my life living, sleeping, speaking, eating, learning, breathing and fully experiencing the French culture. This one month I spent thousands of miles away from home has given me a fresh new perspective of what I want my life to be. This once in a lifetime experience has thoroughly influenced who I am currently and who I will be in the future.

Have you ever built something up in your mind to the point where it was all you could think about? Did it turn out as wonderful as you imagined, or did you feel stupid for building it up so much? My one worry for this trip was that it wouldn’t reach the bar I had set for it. In January, I began a list about a mile long in my mind of what I wanted this experience to be; I had made up an imaginary family, an imaginary house, and an imaginary town. All of these things that I wanted, and at some points maybe expected to happen, weren’t the case at all. It turned out that those things I didn’t want to happen or that I hadn’t anticipated were the things that made it worthwhile.

First meeting my family was a disaster. I stepped off of the train from Paris into Bordeaux with much anticipation. All of the host families awaited us on the platform. The other nine students and I had never seen our families before, but the families apparently knew exactly who we were. As soon as I stepped off of the train, I was practically trampled by strangers eager to meet their temporary siblings. I had only heard two days before that I would be living with a woman and her eleven year old daughter. I also discovered on my journey abroad that all of the other students were living with people their own age. I was somewhat disappointed because I knew that living with someone younger would be an obstacle in meeting people my age; and an obstacle it surely was. When I first saw my host mom and sister coming toward me, my stomach dropped with nerves. There was so much awkwardness between us; I even considered jetting back onto the train for safety. I have never felt so exposed in my life. I spoke enough French that I thought I would be able to communicate well enough, but the moment I stepped off the train my vocabulary was erased. This made for an extremely silent drive home.

Throughout the next four weeks, Laura, the daughter, and Jeanne, the mother and I became great friends. After several days, my vocabulary miraculously returned and the three of us were talking non-stop. Before bed each night, one of us would say something funny and within seconds all of us were laughing until we cried and couldn’t breathe any longer.

Jeanne spoke some English, but she also spoke Greek and because of my original struggles with French, I taught Laura quite a bit of English. This led to quite a confusing conversation. Jeanne was speaking Greek, Laura; English and me; French. The three of us each learned plenty of new vocabulary.

I spent a wonderful 4 weeks with the family. On the very last night with the family, we had “steak-haché” and “purée” for dinner. Beforehand, I figured it was a normal French meal but when it appeared on the table, I realized it was a hamburger and mashed potatoes! I thought it was an absolutely perfect way to end the trip. But, my trip didn’t end there.

There were no stairs inside the house (only outside), so the family had built in a lift. It was somewhat like an elevator, without doors. After dinner, I was taking the lift upstairs to go to bed. When the lift was parallel with the upstairs floor my toes were overlapping the edge of the lift and they were crushed between the platform and the upstairs floor. The next minute was extremely traumatic as I sat down in the kitchen to survey the damage. I don’t recall feeling any pain; all that I remember was being so worried about Laura. She thought I had lost my entire foot in the lift and was crying hysterically.

Jeanne took me to the hospital where we stayed for the next five hours. I had never really been to the hospital before so doing it for the first time in a foreign country was stressful. I was hardly in pain and I could not get over the fact that on the very last night I hurt myself. Laura and I passed the next three hours in the ER laughing together. I actually cannot think of a better way to have spent my last night. If someone had suggested to me before I left that I would break my toe on the very last night I would have never believed it and I would have hoped that wouldn’t happen. However, I am so glad that it did. Especially now, because it makes for a pretty decent story to tell!

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